Honolulu: U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii on Saturday to discuss the threat posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea after Pyongyang conducted a series of missile tests earlier this year.
Blinken said at a news conference after the meeting that North Korea was “in a phase of provocation” and the three countries condemned the recent missile launches.
“We are absolutely united in our approach, in our determination,” Blinken said after his talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong.
He said the countries were “very closely consulting” on further steps they may take in response to North Korea, but didn’t offer specifics.
The three released a joint statement calling on North Korea to engage in dialogue and cease its “unlawful activities.” They said they had no hostile intent toward North Korea and were open to meeting Pyongyang without preconditions.
Hayashi later told Japanese reporters that the three ministers had had “very fruitful” discussions on North Korea. He declined to elaborate on other steps they might take.
North Korea has a long history of seeking international concessions using provocative tactics such as missile or nuclear tests. The latest test comes at a time when the North Korean economy has been hit hard by pandemic border closures at a time when the North Korean economy has been battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions.
Many see the tests as an attempt to pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to ease sanctions. The Biden administration has shown no willingness to do so without meaningful cuts to North Korea’s nuclear program, but it has offered open-ended negotiations.
North Korea has rejected a U.S. offer to resume diplomacy, saying it will not return to talks unless Washington abandons its so-called hostile policy. North Korea is angered by U.S. sanctions and regular military exercises with South Korea.
The tests also have a technical component that allows North Korea to hone its arsenal. One of the missiles tested recently — the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile — is capable of reaching U.S. territory on Guam. It is the longest-range weapon North Korea has tested since 2017.
North Korea appears set to suspend its tests during the Winter Olympics in China, its most important ally and economic lifeline. But analysts believe North Korea will significantly increase its weapons tests after the Olympics.
The latest tests have rattled Pyongyang’s neighbors in South Korea and Japan. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who helped set up historic talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, said last month that the tests violated U.N. Security Council resolutions and urged North Korea to “stop” Actions that create tension and stress”.
The Security Council initially imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006. Sanctions have become tougher in response to further nuclear tests and the country’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Citing North Korea’s economic difficulties, China and Russia have called for the lifting of sanctions, such as a ban on seafood exports and a ban on its citizens from working overseas and sending earnings back home.
Blinken arrived in Hawaii from Fiji, where he met with Acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Saeed-Khaiyum and other Pacific leaders to discuss regional issues, particularly the existential risks posed by climate change. This is the first visit to Fiji by a US Secretary of State since 1985.
He began his Pacific tour in Australia, where he met his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan. The four countries make up the “Quad,” a group of Indo-Pacific democracies aimed at countering China’s regional influence.
Hayashi and Chung held a separate bilateral meeting Saturday for about 40 minutes before seeing Blinken. Japan’s Foreign Ministry said they reaffirmed the importance of cooperating together and with the United States to respond to North Korea and to achieve regional stability.
The ministry said they also “frankly” exchanged views on ongoing disputes between the two countries, including wartime Korean laborers and sexual abuse of Korean women forced into sexual servitude by Japan’s imperial army.
Chung proposed the two countries accelerate diplomacy to find solutions to the disagreements, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Blinken also met separately with Chung. He met Hayashi earlier this week in Australia.