U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrived in Tokyo on Thursday to discuss China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and the stalled effort to denuclearize North Korea.
Biegun, the top American envoy for North Korea, held talks over dinner with Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba after flying from Seoul, where he met with South Korean officials.
The trip comes after North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border and announced the redeployment of troops in two demilitarized areas in mid-June.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has in recent days issued statements ruling out the resumption of denuclearization talks with the United States, deadlocked since a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un collapsed in early 2019 over disagreements on sanctions relief for the secretive state.
But Biegun has indicated the door to dialogue remains open, saying Wednesday in Seoul that “when Chairman Kim appoints a counterpart to me who is prepared and empowered to negotiate on these issues with me, they will find us ready at that very moment.”
The highest-ranking foreign official to visit Japan in the coronavirus pandemic, Biegun was exempt from an entry ban on travel from South Korea on condition he be tested for COVID-19 and avoid contact with members of the public.
At Thursday’s meeting, Akiba and Biegun were also expected to discuss the situation in Hong Kong, where China has imposed a sweeping national security law despite international concern it will be used to erode freedoms and human rights in the former British colony.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Taro Kono are slated to separately meet Biegun, on Friday.