Posts Tagged ‘Shinzo Abe’

South China Sea: Japan, New Zealand Support International Law, Arbitral Ruling, Angering China

May 19, 2017
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, right, accompanied by his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, reviews an honor guard prior to their meeting at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Wednesday, May 17, 2017. AP/Shizuo Kambayashi, Pool

MANILA, Philippines — Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English have expressed concern over the disputed South China Sea following their meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday.

In their joint statement released after the meeting, the two leaders called on concerned parties to settle disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and in light of the award issued by an international arbitral tribunal.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued the award invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters. The court also ruled that Beijing violated its commitment under the UNCLOS for building artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.


The Philippines, under the Duterte administration, has decided to set aside the ruling in settling the dispute with China.


Abe and English called for the early finalization of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

“They called on all parties to uphold freedom of navigation and overflight and ensure unimpeded trade while avoiding provocative actions that could increase tensions and erode regional trust and confidence, including land reclamation, building of outposts, construction and militarisation,” the joint statement read.

Beijing, however, finds the statement of Japan and New Zealand “rather inopportune.”

“Given all these, Japan still exerts itself in every possible way to stir up trouble and exaggerate what it called ‘the tense situation’ which does not exist at all,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a press briefing Thursday.

Hua stressed that the arbitration case on the South China Sea has “already been turned over as a page of history.”

Philippine-China bilateral talks

Beijing urged Tokyo to adjust its mindset for mutual trust between regional countries and for peace and stability in the region.

“We cannot help but wondering: what does Japan really want? Peace and stability in the South China Sea? Or is it exactly peace and stability in the South China Sea as well as improving relations between China and the Philippines and other ASEAN member states that worry Japan so much?” Hua said.

The Philippines and China are set to hold the inaugural meeting of their bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea dispute on Friday.

“The two sides expect to have friendly exchanges during this meeting on the relevant maritime issue and properly manage disputes through bilateral dialogues so as to create favorable conditions for the final settlement of the relevant dispute and ensure a good atmosphere for the sound and steady development of bilateral ties and the smooth progress of practical cooperation in various fields,” the spokesperson said.

RELATED: China expects to ‘disperse suspicion’ in planned talks with Philippines


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For about five years China has been loudly proclaiming “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea.” China has said, everything north of the “nine dash line” shown here, essentially, belongs to China.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China chose to ignore international law.

S.Korea, Japan seek to lower tensions over ‘comfort women’

May 18, 2017


© AFP | A man (L) wearing a mask of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kneels down in a mock apology next to the statue (R) of a teenage girl symbolizing former “comfort women” who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with a senior South Korean envoy on Thursday, as the two countries try to lower tensions over Tokyo’s wartime use of “comfort women”.

The special envoy dispatched by South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-In said in Tokyo that Seoul wants regular summits and improved relations, which have been hindered by the memory of Japan’s harsh colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.

Abe also struck a conciliatory note, saying: “With the new president, I wish to build future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations.”

In what both governments hoped was a major step forward, the two countries had agreed in 2015 to a deal designed to end a row over Korean “comfort women” forced into sex slavery for Japanese soldiers during the World War II.

However, the election this month of Moon as president, replacing the ousted Park Geun-Hye, has cast doubt over the agreement, which both governments previously had said “resolved (the issue) finally and irreversibly”.

Moon in a phone call with Abe last week said that most Koreans cannot accept the agreement.

That raised worries in Tokyo that the issue could again hinder ties, at a time when both countries are seeking unity to face the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

As part of the accord, Japan offered an apology and a payment totalling one billion yen ($9 million) to the dozens of remaining survivers.

But critics of the deal in South Korea said Japan did not go far enough, and earlier this year Tokyo recalled its ambassador over a statue symbolising “comfort women”, which was erected outside its consulate in the South Korean city of Busan.

Speaking to reporters after Thursday’s meeting, envoy Moon Hee-Sang confirmed that the “comfort women” issue had been raised, but did not offer further details.

“We had a serious discussion but I find it uncomfortable to say more about it,” Moon said, adding that both sides expressed their positions.

Japan has pressed Seoul to implement the deal and also to remove another “comfort women” statue near the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also China and other parts of Asia, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

New South Korean President Opens Talks With China, Japan, U.S.

May 11, 2017


© Yonhap/AFP | South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-In talks to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, on May 11, 2017


New South Korean President Moon Jae-In spoke to the leaders of China and Japan Thursday, hours after a telephone call with his US counterpart Donald Trump, officials and reports said, as he began shaping his approach to the nuclear-armed North.

In a 40-minute conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the two agreed denuclearising Pyongyang was a “common goal” between them, Moon’s office said.

Ties between Seoul and Beijing have soured over the South’s deployment of a controversial US anti-missile system aimed at guarding against threats from the nuclear-armed North.

Moon also had a telephone call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese news agency Jiji reported.

Seoul is embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with former colonial power Japan over wartime history, but fellow US ally Tokyo is also targeted by the North.

China sees the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as a threat to its own military capability and has slapped a series of measures against South Korean businesses seen as economic retaliation.

In their first phone conversation, Moon and Xi “agreed that denuclearising the Korean peninsula is the two countries’ common goal”, the South Korean president’s spokesman Yoon Young-Chan told reporters.

Moon, who took office on Wednesday, favours engagement with the North — whose key diplomatic backer is China — to bring it to the negotiating table over its nuclear and missile ambitions.

Moon also called for “dialogue along with sanctions and pressure” on the North to push Pyongyang to talks, Yoon said.

Moon has previously expressed ambivalence over the THAAD system and told Xi he was “well aware” of Chinese concerns about it, calling for bilateral talks to “increase understanding over the issue”.

The two leaders agreed to exchange special envoys “at an early date” and Moon proposed sending a separate delegation to Beijing that will “exclusively discuss the THAAD and the North’s nuclear issues”, Yoon said.

Echoing the United States’ line, Moon also suggested that China — the North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline — should do more to tame Pyongyang, saying “solving the THAAD problem would be easier if there was no more provocation by the North.”

Xi officially invited Moon to visit Beijing, Yoon added.

The phone conversation came a day after Moon and US President Donald Trump agreed on “close cooperation” in dealing with the North’s nuclear ambitions in their first conversation Wednesday night.

The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since last year in its quest to deliver a nuclear warhead to “imperialist enemy” the US.

Tensions have been running high with Washington calling for more sanctions and warning a military option was on the table, but Trump recently softened his posture, saying he would be “honoured” to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un.

The US is the South’s security guarantor and has 28,500 troops stationed in the country, but Seoul was startled when Trump suggested it should pay for the $1 billion THAAD system.

Japan’s biggest warship to escort US supply vessel

April 30, 2017
/ 01:57 PM April 30, 2017

Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces latest helicopter destroyer Izumo anchors at its Yokosuka base in Yokosuka on March 31, 2015. The JS Izumo (DDH-183), with a length of 248-meters and displacing 19,500 tons, is the largest vessel procured by the MSDF ever. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA

Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces latest helicopter destroyer Izumo anchors at its Yokosuka base in Yokosuka on March 31, 2015. The JS Izumo (DDH-183), with a length of 248-meters and displacing 19,500 tons, is the largest vessel procured by the MSDF ever. AFP FILE

TOKYO, Japan — Japan will dispatch its biggest warship since World War II to protect a US supply ship, as tensions mount in the region over North Korea, media reports said on Sunday.

The helicopter carrier Izumo will leave the mother port of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, on Monday and join the US supply ship to escort it further into the western Pacific, the leading Asahi Shimbun daily and Jiji Press reported citing unnamed government sources.

It will be the first deployment — outside of troop exercises –to protect the US fleet after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expanded the country’s military capabilities in 2015, though they remain restricted under Japan’s pacifist constitution.

The US supply ship is expected to support America’s naval fleet in the Pacific, possibly including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, which remains on high alert over North Korea’s ballistic missile firings, the reports said.

Japanese naval officials declined to comment on the reports.

Earlier this week, the US carrier had joint drills with Japan’s naval forces.

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The Carl Vinson arrived in the Sea of Japan and kicked off a joint drill with the South Korean navy on Saturday, hours after North Korea launched a ballistic missile in apparent defiance of the US.

North Korea’s state media has said the North’s military is capable of sinking the US aircraft carrier with a single strike.

The latest missile launch, which South Korea said was a failure, ratchets up tensions on the Korean peninsula, with Washington and Pyongyang locked in an ever-tighter spiral of threat, counter-threat and escalating military preparedness.

US President Donald Trump, who has warned of a “major conflict” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s regime, said the latest test was a pointed snub to China — the North’s main ally and economic lifeline.

“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!” Trump tweeted. CBB/rga

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Senior Japan, China envoys meet in Tokyo, eye Shinzo Abe-Xi Jinping summit in July

April 4, 2017

TOKYO – Senior diplomats from Japan and China met on Tuesday (April 4) with an eye towards arranging a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping in July.

Also at the top of their agenda was how the two neighbours can work together to curb North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile threat.

The delegations, led by Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Takeo Akiba and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, agreed that close communication between the two sides is crucial to fostering more stable Sino-Japanese ties.

This is especially timely as the two countries mark 45 years of the normalisation of diplomatic relations this year, and 40 years of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty next year, Mr Akiba and Mr Kong said.

Mr Akiba said in his brief opening remarks: “To improve ties and appropriately deal with problems, we have to expand our cooperation and try to build consensus on different issues.”

Their meeting comes as relations are fraught over a territorial dispute involving the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea. Chinese warships and fighter jets have had repeated infractions into Japanese waters and airspace.

And China, where the wartime wounds inflicted by Japan still run deep, eyes with suspicion Japan’s expanding military budget and role of its Self-Defence Forces.

Mr Akiba’s meeting with Mr Kong – an old Japan hand who is widely tipped as a strong candidate to be the next Chinese Ambassador to Japan – is expected to pave the way towards a summit meeting between Mr Abe and Mr Xi on the sidelines of the Group of 20 nations (G-20) summit in Hamburg, Germany in July.

If the meeting takes place, it will be their first bilateral meeting since last November, when the two leaders met for 10 minutes on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Lima, Peru.

Mr Akiba and Mr Kong were also expected to exchange views on how to deal with the increasing threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programmes.

Intelligence sources from Seoul and Tokyo have said that North Korea could hold its sixth nuclear test this week to coincide with a summit meeting between Mr Xi and his US counterpart Donald Trump. Pyongyang also successfully lobbed four missiles into the Sea of Japan or East Sea last month in what it claims to be a dry run for a strike against US bases in Japan.

China, which is Pyongyang’s major economic benefactor and political ally, has often been accused of not doing enough to rein in the North. Mr Trump said on Sunday that the US will address the nuclear threat unilaterally if China does not do more.

The two envoys on Tuesday also discussed political uncertainties in South Korea, which led to the postponement of an annual trilateral summit among Japan, China and South Korea that was slated to be held at the end of last year.

South Korea will elect their new president on May 9, after Park Geun Hye was ousted over an influence-peddling scandal. She is now in jail and facing interrogation.

Kim Jong-Un beams as he watches a ‘revolutionary’ new rocket being tested despite a ban on North Korea developing missiles

March 19, 2017

  • North Korea conducted a ground test of a new type of high-thrust rocket engine
  • Kim was beaming from ear to ear as he and his generals applauded the test
  • He called it ‘an event of historic significance’ for the country’s rocket industry

North Korea has conducted a ground test of a new type of high-thrust rocket engine that leader Kim Jong Un is calling a revolutionary breakthrough for the country’s space program.

Kim was beaming from ear to ear as he and his generals applauded the successful test at the Sohae launch site yesterday.

The trial was intended to confirm the engine’s thrust power and gauge the reliability of its control system and structural safety.

Kim hailed it ‘a great event of historic significance’ for the country’s rocket industry.

Scroll down for video 

Beaming: Kim celebrated with his generals who applauded the test at the launch site

Beaming: Kim celebrated with his generals who applauded the test at the launch site

Having a blast: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the country's Sohae launch site yesterday

Having a blast: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the country’s Sohae launch site yesterday

Kim called the test 'a great event of historic significance' for the country's indigenous rocket industry

Kim called the test ‘a great event of historic significance’ for the country’s indigenous rocket industry

Kim watched the rocket being fire from afar as he celebrated what he called a great day in his country's history

Kim watched the rocket being fire from afar as he celebrated what he called a great day in his country’s history

He also said the ‘whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries’ and claimed the test marks what will be known as the ‘March 18 revolution’ in the development of the country’s rocket industry.

The engine is to be used for North Korea’s space and satellite-launching program.

North Korea is banned by the United Nations from conducting long-range missile tests, but it claims its satellite program is for peaceful use, a claim many in the U.S. and elsewhere believe is questionable.

North Korean officials have said that under a five-year plan, they intend to launch more Earth observation satellites and what would be the country’s first geostationary communications satellite – which would be a major technological advance.

Getting that kind of satellite into place would likely require a more powerful engine than its previous ones. The North also claims it is trying to build a viable space program that would include a moon launch within the next 10 years.

The test was conducted as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in China on a swing through Asia that has been closely focused on concerns over how to deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

He also said the 'whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries'

He also said the ‘whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries’

North Korea has conducted a ground test of a new type of high-thrust rocket engine

North Korea has conducted a ground test of a new type of high-thrust rocket engine

It’s hard to know whether this test was deliberately timed to coincide with Tillerson’s visit, but Pyongyang has been highly critical of ongoing U.S.-South Korea wargames just south of the Demilitarized Zone and often conducts some sort of high-profile operation of its own in protest.

Earlier this month, it fired off four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, reportedly reaching within 120 miles of Japan’s shoreline.

Japan, which was Tillerson’s first stop before traveling to South Korea and China, hosts tens of thousands of U.S. troops.

The test was conducted as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in China on a swing through Asia

The test was conducted as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in China on a swing through Asia

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China

While building ever better long-range missiles and smaller nuclear warheads to pair with them, North Korea has marked a number of successes in its space program.

It launched its latest satellite – the Kwangmyongsong 4, or Brilliant Star 4 – into orbit on Feb. 7 last year, just one month after conducting what it claims was its first hydrogen-bomb test.

It put its first satellite in orbit in 2012, a feat few other countries have achieved. In 2013, rival South Korea launched a satellite into space from its own soil for the first time, though it needed Russian help to build the rocket’s first stage.

North Korea put its first satellite in orbit in 2012, a feat few other countries have achieved

North Korea put its first satellite in orbit in 2012, a feat few other countries have achieved

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U.S., China soften tone, say to work together on North Korea

March 18, 2017


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) reach to shake hands at th end of a joint press conference at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, March 18, 2017. REUTERS/ Mark Schiefelbein
By Yeganeh Torbati and Ben Blanchard | BEIJING

The United States and China will work together to get nuclear-armed North Korea take “a different course”, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Saturday, softening previous criticism of Beijing after talks with his Chinese counterpart.

China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by Washington to rein in North Korea’s surging nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, one of a series of hurdles in ties between the world’s two largest economies.

But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described the talks with Tillerson as “candid, pragmatic and productive”. The two sides appeared to have made some progress or put aside differences on difficult issues, at least in advance of a planned summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump.

On Friday, Tillerson issued the Trump administration’s starkest warning yet to North Korea, saying in Seoul that a military response would be “on the table” if Pyongyang took action to threaten South Korean and U.S. forces.

Tillerson took a softer line after the meeting with Wang. He told reporters both China and the United States noted efforts over the last two decades had not succeeded in curbing the threat posed by North Korea’s weapons programmes.

“We share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and that things have reached a rather dangerous level, and we’ve committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any type of conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson said.

He said Wang and he agreed to work together to persuade North Korea “make a course correction and move away from the development of their nuclear weapons.”

Wang said U.N. resolutions on North Korea both mapped out sanctions and called for efforts to resume efforts for a negotiated settlement.

“No matter what happens, we have to stay committed to diplomatic means as a way to seek peaceful settlement,” he said.

Wang said he and Tillerson “both hope to find ways to restart the talks”.

“Neither of us are ready to give up the hope for peace,” he said.

Tillerson had said on Friday that any talks on North Korea could only take place after it began the process of unwinding its weapons programmes.

A U.S. official had told Reuters in Washington earlier this week that Tillerson may raise the prospect of imposing “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks and other firms doing business with North Korea in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Trump said in a tweet on Friday that North Korea was “behaving very badly” and accused China, Pyongyang’s neighbour and only major ally, of doing little to resolve the crisis.


However, the two sides appear to have toned down differences as they work on finalising a trip by Xi to the United States, possibly next month, for his first summit with Trump.

Wang said the two countries were in “close communication” on arranging the meeting, but gave no details.

The state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said on Saturday that it was in China’s interests to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions but to suggest China cut the country off completely was ridiculous as it would be fraught with danger.

“Once there is chaos in North Korea, it would first bring disaster to China. I’m sorry, but the United States and South Korea don’t have the right to demand this of China,” it said in an editorial.

A former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, Tillerson will meet Xi on Sunday.

North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches since the beginning of last year.

Last week, it launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

Washington has been pressing Beijing to do more to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

China has called for a dual track approach, urging North Korea to suspend its tests and the United States and South Korea to suspend military drills, so both sides can return to talks.

China has also been infuriated by the deployment of the THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, missile defence system in South Korea, which it says will both harm China’s own security and do nothing to ease tensions.

China says the system’s powerful radar will extend into the country’s northeast and potentially track Chinese missile launches, and maybe even intercept them. Russia also opposes THAAD, for the same reasons.

There are other tricky issues too, including the self-ruled island of Taiwan which China claims as its own.

The Trump administration is crafting a big new arms package for Taiwan that could include advanced rocket systems and anti-ship missiles to defend against China, U.S. officials said, a deal sure to anger Beijing.

Wang said Saturday’s talks included discussions on THAAD and Taiwan but did not give details.

(Additional reporting by Elias Glenn; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)


China: Rex Tillerson urged to be ‘cool-headed’ over North Korea

March 18, 2017

BBC News

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, on 18 March2017

Relations are tense almost a month before an expected summit between the two countries’ leaders. AFP photo

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged the US to remain “cool-headed” over North Korean tensions.

The situation was at a “crossroads”, but must not be allowed to develop into a conflict, he said after hosting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Mr Tillerson spoke of “dangerous levels” of tension, a day after suggesting the US might launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

North Korea is working to develop nuclear missiles that can reach the US.

Last week, it launched four ballistic missiles – defying United Nations resolutions.

Mr Tillerson is in Beijing in the final leg of his East Asia tour, which has been dominated by anxieties over North Korea.

In South Korea on Friday, he said a US military response would be on the table if North Korea threatened South Korea or US forces.

President Donald Trump tweeted that North Korea was “behaving very badly”.

He added that China – Pyongyang’s main ally – had done “little to help”.

Mr Wang defended the Chinese position, saying all parties were duty-bound to implement UN sanctions against Pyongyang, but also to seek dialogue and diplomatic solutions.

“We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision,” Mr Wang said.

The US has deployed its Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (Thaad) in South Korea in a move it says is designed to protect against threats from North Korea.

But China has claimed the system goes “far beyond” the defence needs of the Korean peninsula.

Mr Tillerson, a former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday.

Mr Xi is scheduled to visit the United States next month for his first meeting with President Trump.

Some commentators expect Mr Tillerson to downplay any tensions between the two countries ahead of that encounter.

The timing is hardly auspicious, says the BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie.


China, U.S. Hold ‘Candid’ Talks on North Korea, Taiwan

March 18, 2017

BEIJING — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Saturday he held “candid, pragmatic and productive” talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, which included North Korea, Taiwan and bilateral trade.

Tillerson said both sides renewed their determination to convince North Korea, which has a fast-developing nuclear and ballistic missile program, to choose a better path.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Tom Hogue)


U.S. Signals New Tack on North Korea — China not happy with the criticism

March 18, 2017

By Richard Haas

President, Council on Foreign Relations
March 17, 2017

There is a growing consensus that the first genuine crisis of Donald Trump’s presidency could involve North Korea and, more specifically, its ability to place a nuclear warhead on one or more ballistic missiles possessing sufficient range and accuracy to reach the continental United States. A crisis could stem from other factors as well: a large increase in the number of nuclear warheads that North Korea produces, evidence that it is selling nuclear materials to terrorist groups, or some use of its conventional military forces against South Korea or US forces stationed there.

There is no time to lose: any of these developments could occur in a matter of months or at most years. Strategic patience, the approach toward North Korea that has characterized successive US administrations since the early 1990s, has run its course.

One option would be simply to accept as inevitable continued increases in the quantity and quality of North Korea’s nuclear and missile inventories. The US, South Korea, and Japan would fall back on a combination of missile defense and deterrence.

The problem is that missile defense is imperfect, and deterrence is uncertain. The only certainty is that the failure of either would result in unimaginable costs. In these circumstances, Japan and South Korea might reconsider whether they, too, require nuclear weapons, raising the risk of a new and potentially destabilizing arms race in the region.

A second set of options would employ military force, either against a gathering North Korean threat or one judged to be imminent. One problem with this approach is uncertainty as to whether military strikes could destroy all of the North’s missiles and warheads. But even if they could, North Korea would probably retaliate with conventional military forces against South Korea. Given that Seoul and US troops stationed in South Korea are well within range of thousands of artillery pieces, the toll in lives and physical damage would be immense. The new South Korean government (which will take office in two months) is sure to resist any action that could trigger such a scenario.

Some therefore opt for regime change, hoping that a different North Korean leadership might prove to be more reasonable. It probably would; but, given how closed North Korea is, bringing about such an outcome remains more wish than serious policy.

This brings us to diplomacy. The US could offer (following close consultations with the governments in South Korea and Japan, and ideally against the backdrop of additional United Nations resolutions and economic sanctions) direct negotiations with North Korea. Once talks commenced, the US side could advance a deal: North Korea would have to agree to freeze its nuclear and missile capabilities, which would require cessation of all testing of both warheads and missiles, along with access to international inspectors to verify compliance. The North would also have to commit not to sell any nuclear materials to any other country or organization.

In exchange, the US and its partners would offer, besides direct talks, the easing of sanctions. The US and others could also agree to sign – more than 60 years after the end of the Korean War – a peace agreement with the North.

North Korea (in some ways like Iran) could keep its nuclear option but be barred from translating it into a reality. Concerns over North Korea’s many human-rights violations would not be pressed at this time, although the country’s leaders would understand that there could be no normalization of relations (or end of sanctions) so long as repression remained the norm. Full normalization of ties would also require North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons program.

At the same time, the US should limit how far it is willing to go. There can be no end to regular US-South Korean military exercises, which are a necessary component of deterrence and potential defense, given the military threat posed by the North. For the same reason, any limits on US forces in the country or region would be unacceptable. And any negotiation must take place within a fixed time period, lest North Korea use that time to create new military facts.

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USS Carl Vinson refuels USS O’Kane

Could such an approach succeed? The short answer is “maybe.” China’s stance would likely prove critical. Chinese leaders have no love for Kim Jong-un’s regime or its nuclear weapons, but it dislikes even more the prospect of North Korea’s collapse and the unification of the Korean Peninsula with Seoul as the capital.

The question is whether China (the conduit by which goods enter and leave North Korea) could be persuaded to use its considerable influence with its neighbor. The US should offer some reassurances that it would not exploit Korea’s reunification for strategic advantage, while warning China of the dangers North Korea’s current path poses to its own interests. Continued conversations with China about how best to respond to possible scenarios on the peninsula clearly make sense.

Again, there is no guarantee that diplomacy would succeed. But it might. And even if it failed, demonstrating that a good-faith effort had been made would make it less difficult to contemplate, carry out, and subsequently explain to domestic and international audiences why an alternative policy, one that included the use of military force, was embraced.


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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson


All Eyes on China as U.S. Signals New Tack on North Korea

BEIJING — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson signaled on Friday that the Trump administration was prepared to scrap nearly a decade of United States policy toward North Korea in favor of a more aggressive effort to eliminate the country’s nuclear weapons program. Whether that means pre-emptive action, which he warned was “on the table,” will depend a great deal on how China responds.

North Korea relies on Chinese trade and aid to keep its economy afloat, and China has long been unwilling to withdraw that support. Up to 40 percent of the North’s foreign currency — essential for buying goods abroad — comes from a network of about 600 Chinese companies, according to a recent study by Sayari Analytics, a Washington financial intelligence firm.

Mr. Tillerson will be in China on Saturday, a day after saying in Seoul, South Korea, that the United States would not negotiate with North Korea on freezing its nuclear and missile programs. His interactions with his hosts in Beijing, and whether he takes a hard line with China over its support for North Korea, will be closely watched — as will be China’s response.

A sign of the administration’s stance came on Friday as President Trump criticized both North Korea and the Chinese government. “North Korea is behaving very badly,” he said on Twitter. “They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

The Chinese leadership is likely to bristle at such criticism, but it may be reviewing its options, given the collision course that North Korea and the United States seem to be on.

Last month, Beijing showed a new willingness to punish its longtime ally when it suspended imports of North Korean coal, saying it had reached the annual limit allowed under United Nations sanctions. Customs figures later showed that China had in fact imported only about 30 percent of the quota for 2017.

Yang Xiyu, a veteran Chinese diplomat involved with North Korea, said Mr. Tillerson may be able to persuade Chinese leaders to do more when he meets with them in Beijing this weekend, particularly against Chinese companies that do business with the North.

Mr. Yang cited as a potential model the case that United States officials built last year against a Chinese executive accused of selling North Korea a chemical that can be used in nuclear-enrichment centrifuges. While Beijing was not happy about the case, it eventually accepted it. “It wasn’t easy, but it was the right way to push the issue to a solution,” he said.

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