World / Politics

G7 pushes North Korea to continue denuclearization talks with U.S.

by Ko Hirano

Kyodo

Foreign ministers of Group of Seven nations on Saturday pushed North Korea to continue denuclearization negotiations with the United States while vowing to maintain pressure on Pyongyang to encourage it to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

In a communique issued after a two-day meeting in Dinard, western France, the ministers also expressed serious concern about the situation in the East and South China seas — a veiled criticism of China’s militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea and its attempts to undermine Japan’s control of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The Senkakus are administered by Japan, but claimed by China and Taiwan, which call them the Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.

Some G7 members touched on China’s expanding global ambitions through its signature “Belt and Road” initiative infrastructure project, a Japanese official said. But the communique makes no reference to the initiative in an apparent effort to demonstrate unity among the group.

Italy signed up to the initiative two weeks ago, making it the first G7 member to do so. Critics say President Xi Jinping’s project is intended to draw countries deeper into Beijing’s economic orbit.

The G7 meeting came after the breakdown of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February, an outcome that increased uncertainties over security in Northeast Asia.

“We encourage the DPRK to avoid any provocations and call for the DPRK to continue discussions with the United States on denuclearization,” the communique said, referring to North Korea by the acronym for its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Washington has said it remains open to dialogue with Pyongyang but North Korea has threatened to withdraw from denuclearization talks with the United States and reconsider a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.

“We regret that the DPRK has not taken concrete, verified actions towards denuclearization, and we urge the DPRK to comply with and fulfill its international obligations, and undertake those actions,” the communique said.

To compel Pyongyang to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and related delivery system programs, the G7 is committed to fully enforcing U.N. sanctions and is calling on all states — including China and Russia — to fully implement sanctions, according to the communique.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Japan “fully supports” U.S. diplomatic engagement with North Korea, and that Tokyo “would like to give a push to the U.S.-North Korea process toward achieving the full denuclearization of North Korea.”

Kono also said he won the backing from his peers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, plus the European Union, to press North Korea to immediately resolve the issue of its abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kono said the G7’s level of interest in China “has become much higher” since last year’s foreign ministerial meeting in Toronto. He added European countries have stepped up debates on how to deal with China, especially after a visit by Xi to the continent last month.

Also in March, the European Commission, the executive branch of the 28-nation union, labeled China “an economic competitor in pursuit of technological leadership and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”

As if to reflect such sentiment, the G7 communique said: “We encourage China to participate responsibly in the free and open international rules-based system.”

The G7 also shared concerns about Beijing’s industrial strategy, investment practices, inadequate intellectual property protection and other matters that make it difficult to ensure a level playing field for foreign businesses.

Among other issues, the G7 ministers demanded that Venezuela urgently hold “new free, transparent and credible presidential elections,” citing the “illegitimacy” of the process that resulted in President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election.

The United States, Japan and European countries support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president, while Maduro is backed by Russia and China.

Kono and his European G7 peers, however, were apparently at odds with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who attended the Dinard session in lieu of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, over Trump’s recognition last month of the occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory, according to a Japanese official.

Trump’s controversial move followed a similar decision last year when his administration relocated the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem after recognizing the latter as Israel’s capital.

The Dinard session was held to lay the groundwork for the G7 summit slated for Aug. 24 to 26 in Biarritz, France.