Posts Tagged ‘South Korea’

Japanese Official Warns North Korean Threat Critical, Imminent

October 23, 2017

Defense minister tells Asian counterparts, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that Japan supports U.S. position that “all options are on the table”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is given a book by Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers meeting on Monday.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is given a book by Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers meeting on Monday. PHOTO: AMBER SMITH/ZUMA PRESS

CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines—Japan’s defense minister said the threat posed by North Korea has grown to an “unprecedented, critical and imminent level,” reflecting a rising sense of urgency over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told counterparts from South Korea and the U.S. at a gathering of defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations here that Japan supports the American position that “all options are on the table”–referring to a possible military response—while also favoring efforts at peace.

He said the danger from North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles meant the allies had to carefully calibrate their response.

Mr. Onodera met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as well as South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo, for a rare trilateral meeting on security issues. The meeting comes just weeks before President Donald Trump travels to the region.

The Japanese defense minister’s pronouncements on North Korea came within a day of an election victory by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has pushed to change Japan’s posture as a pacifist nation and play a larger international role, taking part in peacekeeping missions and other operations.

North Korea has launched missiles throughout the area, contributing to anxiety among the U.S. and its allies that a missile actually could strike Japan, South Korea or even Guam, a U.S. territory where thousands of American troops are stationed.

In making his warning Monday, Mr. Onodera didn’t point to an impending North Korean operation. The last North Korean launch was more than a month ago, when Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range missile, according to U.S. defense officials.

North Korea boasts about its nuclear weapons program by releasing photos and videos of its missiles. But in them are tiny clues to their true capability. A team of U.S. analysts, working outside the government, shows how they decode these images to determine when North Korea is bluffing – and when it is showing true power. Photo: North Korea State Media

Mr. Trump has countered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s launches and belligerent remarks with his own rhetoric, threatening a massive military response. Mr. Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have maintained that ongoing diplomatic options remain the best approach to resolve the crisis.

South Korea, considered the most vulnerable to a missile attack from the North, has struggled to refine its message since a new, more liberal administration was installed earlier this year. Mr. Song said Monday that military options must be weighed carefully.

“As defense ministers who are in charge of national defense and other high tech weapons such as ballistic missiles, we understand the very weight of engaging in a war and as such we will make all the efforts necessary to resolve the issue in a diplomatic and economic way as much as possible,” Mr. Song said on the sidelines of the security conference.

He continued: “As soldiers, we will refrain from using military force as much as possible and resolve the problem through other measures. However, if we are attacked then we will have to take firm actions.”

North Korea has emerged as a focal point among allies in the region, even if no consensus yet has emerged on how to counter its provocations. The issue of China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, where Beijing has attempted to expand its claims, has figured slightly less prominently during the defense meeting this year.

While the U.S. has signaled that it will continue to challenge China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, where it has built or expanded artificial islands, Washington also is urging China to do all it can to pressure North Korea to back off its provocations.

“Asean nations have demonstrated that they can listen to one another, they identify opportunities to increase defense cooperation for their own security and seek shared solutions to shared concerns,” Mr. Mattis told reporters before arriving here Monday. “The United States remains unambiguously committed to supporting Asean.”

Asean is a group that serves as an international venue that “gives voice to those who work together,” Mr. Mattis said.

Mr. Mattis will travel to Bangkok on Wednesday to pay respects during royal cremation rites for Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Mr. Mattis later this week also will attend a security meeting in Seoul with his South Korean counterpart, Mr. Song.

Write to Gordon Lubold at


  (Published today, October 23, 2017, The Independent)


North Korea’s nuclear threat now at ‘critical and imminent level’, says Japan

October 23, 2017

Donald Trump threatened to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea

By Andrew Buncombe New York
The Independent
October 23, 2017, Noon in New York


The threat from North Korea’s developing nuclear and conventional weapons programme has reached a “critical and imminent level”, Japan’s defence minister has claimed.

Speaking in the Philippines, in the company of his US and South Korean counterparts, Itsunori Onodera said it was essential those countries concerned about the threat acted to confront it.

“[The] threat posed by North Korea has grown to the unprecedented, critical and imminent level,” he said.

According to Reuters, he added: “Therefore, we have to take calibrated and different responses to meet with that level of threat.”

The comments from Mr Onodera came amid escalating tension between North Korea and the West. Since Kim Jong-un assumed leadership of the country in 2011, he has overseen a rapid escalation of its nuclear weapons programme.

In recent months, it has continued to test intercontinental ballistic missiles, despite repeated calls from the international community not to do so. Many experts believe those missiles – which North Korea has tested by firing them over Japan – could reach the US mainland. At the same time, it has also been testing the nuclear payloads that could be carried by such missiles.

The US has responded by sabre-rattling and a barrage of rhetoric. During his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Donald Trump said the US may be obliged to “totally destroy” North Korea. He has also denounced the outreach endeavours of his top diplomat, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.

North Korea writes unprecedented open letter to multiple Western countries

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Mr Trump said on Twitter earlier this month, using the nickname he has adopted for the North Korean leader. “Save your energy Rex. We’ll do what has to be done!”

Mr Onodera’s remarks, which highlighted the deep concern in Tokyo about North Korea’s weapons testing, were more outspoken than the comments from US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-Moo.

Mr Song said “North Korea’s provocative behaviour is becoming worse and worse”. Mr Mattis also renewed criticism of North Korea’s tests, saying they “threaten regional and global security”.

Meanwhile, former US President Jimmy Carter said he was willing to travel to North Korea on behalf of the Trump administration to try and help diffuse the situation, the New York Times reported over the weekend.

Mattis says to discuss N. Korea threat on Philippines trip — Praises the Philippines for its successes in battling Islamic State in Marawi

October 23, 2017


Image result for james mattis, philippines, photos

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis

CLARK (PHILIPPINES) (AFP) – US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Monday that curbing military threats from North Korea would be high on the agenda on his Asian tour this week, ahead of a visit by Donald Trump.

Tension has been high on the divided peninsula for months with Pyongyang staging its sixth nuclear test and launching two ICBMs that apparently brought much of the US mainland into range.

Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un have meanwhile traded threats of war and personal insults.

Mattis, on his way to the Philippines for security talks with Southeast Asian defence ministers, said he would discuss the “regional security crisis caused by reckless… North Korea” among other issues.

At the forum, Mattis is also expected to hold three-way talks with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan — key US allies in Asia — before visiting Seoul for annual defence talks.

“We will discuss… how we are going to maintain peace by keeping our militaries alert while our diplomats — Japanese, South Korean and US — work with all nations to denuclearise the Korean peninsula,” Mattis told reporters on his aircraft.

He stressed the international community’s goal was to denuclearise the flashpoint region, adding: “There is only one country with nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.”

Mattis’ visit to Seoul comes ahead of Trump’s first presidential trip to Asia next month, which also includes South Korea. All eyes will be on Trump’s message to the isolated North.

His recent remark that “only one thing will work” with North Korea fuelled concerns of a potential conflict.

But even some Trump advisers say US military options are limited when Pyongyang could launch an artillery barrage on the South Korean capital Seoul — only around 50 kilometres from the heavily fortified border and home to 10 million people.

The defence ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meeting in the northern Philippine city of Clark ahead of talks with Mattis, issued a strong statement against North Korea on Monday.

“(We) express grave concerns over the escalation of tensions in the Korean Peninsula including the testing and launching by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in addition to its previous nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches,” the joint declaration said.

“(We) strongly urge the DPRK to immediately comply with its obligations arising from all the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.”

Mattis met with his counterparts from ASEAN on Monday afternoon.


U.S. defense chief Mattis praises Philippines for success in Marawi

Mattis: ‘It was a very tough fight as you know in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.’

Published 12:59 PM, October 23, 2017
Updated 1:00 PM, October 23, 2017

PENTAGON CHIEF. In this file photo, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis arrives on Capitol Hill, October 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

PENTAGON CHIEF. In this file photo, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis arrives on Capitol Hill, October 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

CLARK, Philippines – US Defense Secretary James Mattis on Monday, October 23, praised the Philippines for its successes in battling Islamic State (ISIS) supporters, as he began an Asian trip aimed at reaffirming American support for regional allies.

Image result for Soldiers stand on guard in front of damaged buildings after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside a war-torn area in Bangolo town, Marawi City, southern Philippines October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announces the end of the battle for Marawi

Mattis echoed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement last week that Filipino forces had “liberated” the southern city of Marawi, after 5 months of bitter urban fighting that had claimed more than 1,000 lives, even though battles have continued.

 Image result for Soldiers stand on guard in front of damaged buildings after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside a war-torn area in Bangolo town, Marawi City, southern Philippines October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged houses and buildings are seen after Philippine government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic rebels. Reuters photo

“One of the first things I’m going to do when I get there is commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists,” Mattis told reporters on the flight to the Philippines, according to an official transcript.

“It was a very tough fight as you know in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.”

Gunmen who had pledged allegiance to ISIS occupied parts of Marawi, the largest Islamic city of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23 in what Duterte said was a bid to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate there.

Hundreds of insurgents withstood a US-backed military campaign, including near daily air strikes and artillery fire, that displaced more than 400,000 people and left large parts of Marawi in ruins.

Duterte last week travelled to Marawi to declare it had been “liberated”, a day after the Southeast Asian leader for ISIS, Isnilon Hapilon, was shot dead there.

Image result for Soldiers stand on guard in front of damaged buildings after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside a war-torn area in Bangolo town, Marawi City, southern Philippines October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippine troops at work

However deadly fighting has continued, with the military reporting dozens of militants are still resisting in a small pocket of the city.

Mattis flew to the Philippines to attend a meeting hosted by Southeast Asian defense ministers at the former American military base of Clark, two hours’ drive north of Manila.

The Philippines is a former American colony and the two nations are bound by a mutual defense treaty.

But relations have soured under Duterte as he has sought to build closer ties with China and Russia.

Defense ministers from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Russia are also scheduled to attend the two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) event.

Mattis’ Asia trip, which will also take him to Thailand and South Korea, comes ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia next month.

Some American allies in the region have become wary of Trump’s interest in Asia.

Mattis sought to reassure allies.

“The US remains unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN,” Mattis said. –

Trump’s November Trip To Asia Could Be His Defining Moment

October 23, 2017

US leader’s historic Asian trip will have an enduring impact, but he must confront three harsh realities

United States President Donald Trump’s first official visit to East Asia next month is historic in its combination of low expectations and high potential impact.

The President will visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, marking a potentially defining moment in the next chapter of US-Asia relations.

There is considerable benefit to making a first visit to Asia after rather than before the spectacle that has been the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. It is also of inestimable help to hear the private wisdom of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whom the President hosts today in Washington.

But as a five-nation tour ushers in America’s post-pivot Asia policy, three harsh realities will precede the President’s arrival at every stop on his itinerary.

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U.S. President Donald Trump (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In North-east Asia, Mr Trump will find grave doubts about the reliability of US leadership, especially given North Korea’s irresponsible proclivity to evoke the spectre of nuclear war. Nobody wants to see Pyongyang deploy a deadly arsenal of missiles carrying hydrogen bombs. And a catastrophic conflict is everyone’s nightmare.

The words Mr Trump chooses during his visit will influence Asian opinion about America’s status as the ultimate security guarantor. Long seen as a benign distant balancer, US staying power and political will are increasingly called into question. Washington has focused on a North Korea strategy of maximum pressure and minimal diplomacy. In Seoul – or perhaps if he visits the DMZ or demilitarised zone, Mr Trump can channel Ronald Reagan in Berlin three decades ago (“Tear down this wall”), conveying both determination and imagination. He must signal to the region that his intention is to convert pressure into diplomatic opportunity, not war.

 Mr Donald Trump will visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines on his first trip to Asia as President next month.


If the US cannot convince Asia to follow America’s lead in dealing with Mr Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s impulsive leader, there’s scant chance that the region will help balance the Sinocentric siren call of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This raises a second hard truth that Mr Trump must confront on his Asian tour: shifting economic realities.

Delivering powerful speeches in Seoul, Da Nang or Manila will not be as important as the follow-through, and it is impossible to do this alone. Success depends upon hewing to newly identified US priorities, empowering a multi-dimensional policy, and harnessing a network of effective and able partners and allies.

As the President lands in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the spotlight will be on economics. Here the perception that China is the main engine of global economic growth will loom larger than many in the presidential entourage would care to admit. Illustrative of China’s popular ascendancy is that, according to a recent Pew poll, Australians by a two-to-one margin see Beijing rather than Washington as the economic leader. America may still surpass China in “soft power”, but other data suggests even that gap is closing quickly.

The notion that China simply is the purveyor of public goods, as in building infrastructure under the guise of a benevolent Belt and Road Initiative, needs to be corrected. But Mr Trump must resist the temptation to take the lead in doing so, at least before he clarifies what the US will offer the region by way of an affirmative, inclusive agenda during his tenure. His prerequisite is to articulate a compelling vision, especially after waving the banner of economic nationalism and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact. Only then will he be at liberty to puncture some of the glib assumptions upon which Beijing’s inflated narrative rests.

Mr Trump should remain attentive to geopolitical opportunities as well. Hence, he should visit Hanoi for bilateral talks with Vietnamese officials, before heading to Da Nang; and he should not completely close the back door that will remain open for rejoining the TPP.

The world’s largest economy retains myriad levers for supporting Asia’s economic opportunity. In the meantime, the President’s call for fair and reciprocal bilateral trade and investment deals can highlight the high standards and transparency by which Washington seeks to fortify a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

A third reality concerning global challenges will be obvious by the time Mr Trump joins Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and other regional leaders in Manila as they commemorate the 50th anniversary of Asean. Rising Asian leaders have pride and operate within their own political and cultural constraints, just as Mr Trump does.

The axiom that “all politics is local” pertains to Asia as well. Seeking to support efforts to confront global challenges such as terrorism, trafficking in illegal drugs and securing borders will best be done by offering support and capacity building, not judgment and disengagement. The US can both lead and cooperate, bringing in allies and partners to anchor Washington’s goals within local mechanisms. Let the Philippines determine the scope of expanded counter-terrorism cooperation, for example, and then work with next year’s Asean chair, Singapore, to broaden and deepen that cooperation.

Managing this trio of unavoidable obstructions – China’s economic power, questions about America’s role and seeing global challenges through a local prism – requires a specific type of preparation for November’s journey.

At the top of the agenda is understanding the challenge. Mr Trump’s call for America to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific region sets a new ambition rooted in history. The White House understands the high degree of continuity in a US policy focused on commerce, the maritime commons, and a balance of power operating within a rules-based order.

In the span of 12 days, few deliverables may emerge out of the President’s Asian trip. Yet the impact will be enduring. Delivering powerful speeches in Seoul, Da Nang or Manila will not be as important as the follow-through, and it is impossible to do this alone. Success depends upon hewing to newly identified US priorities, empowering a multi-dimensional policy, and harnessing a network of effective and able partners and allies.

•The writer is senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Programme at the Centre for a New American Security.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline ‘Trump’s Nov visit can be his defining moment in Asia’.

Chinese power over North Korea? It’s more myth than reality

October 21, 2017


BEIJING (AP) — At first glance, it seems the perfect solution to the world’s most dangerous standoff: Find a way to get China to use its enormous influence to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear bombs.

The countries, after all, share a long, porous border, several millennia of history and deep ideological roots. Tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of Chinese soldiers, including Mao Zedong’s son, died to save North Korea from obliteration during the Korean War, and China is essentially Pyongyang’s economic lifeline, responsible for most of its trade and oil.

The notion of Chinese power over the North — that the countries are as “close as lips and teeth,” according to a cliche recorded in the 3rd century — is so tantalizing that Donald Trump has spent a good part of his young presidency playing it up.

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U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The reality, however, is that the complicated, often exasperating, relationship is less about friendship or political bonds than a deep and mutually uneasy dependency. Nominally allies, the neighbors operate in a near constant state of tension, a mix of ancient distrust and dislike and the grating knowledge that they are inextricably tangled up with each other, however much they might chafe against it.

This matters because if China is not the solution to the nuclear crisis, then outsiders long sold on the idea must recalibrate their efforts as the North approaches a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, something the CIA chief this week estimated as only a matter of months away.

“The North Koreans have always driven China crazy,” says John Delury, an expert on both countries at Seoul’s Yonsei University, “and, for their part, the North Koreans have always felt betrayed by China. But both sides need each other in elemental ways.”



One clue about how Chinese see the North can be seen in two widespread nicknames for the overweight, third-generation North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un: Kim Fatty The Third and Kim Fat Fat Fat.

As China rises as an economic, military and diplomatic heavyweight whose reach extends from the Americas to Asia, many here resent being dragged down by an impoverished, stubborn, Third World dictatorship that allows its people to go hungry while its leader lives in luxury and expands a nuclear arsenal that could lead to war with Washington.

North Korean missile tests hurt trade and tourism and strengthen the U.S. presence in a region that China believes it should dominate. North Korean nuclear tests set off earthquakes near the Chinese border and raise fears of radioactive contamination.

There’s also scorn for the North’s brutal, nepotistic brand of socialism, and displeasure that North Korean aggression led South Korea to allow on its territory a U.S. anti-missile system that Beijing says can be used to spy on its operations.

This growing disdain is reflected in China’s willingness to permit criticism of the North in the press, and to allow tougher sanctions at the U.N. Beijing has suspended coal, iron ore, seafood and textiles from the North.

Although North Korea takes pride in its ability to absorb pain, be it war, famine, sanctions or condemnation, China’s tougher line will rob Pyongyang of key sources of foreign currency.

Still, nothing China has done offsets its underlying fear that too much external pressure could collapse the government in Pyongyang. The nightmare scenario for Beijing is North Korean refugees flooding into its northeast after Seoul takes power in Pyongyang and U.S. and South Korean troops occupy lands that were once considered a buffer zone.

“It is true that China loathes North Korea and vice versa — at the societal level, the leadership level and the governmental level,” Van Jackson, a North Korea specialist and lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, wrote earlier this year. “But China’s ‘emotions’ toward North Korea don’t drive its policy.”

Beijing has also argued that it has less power over North Korea than people think. Some observers question whether China could force a change in the North, short of military intervention, even if it wanted to.

North Korea relies on China for most of its oil, and outsiders have long argued that the best way to cripple the North’s economy and force it to submit would be to persuade Beijing to cut that flow.

But even this may not work.

North Korea gets its oil from China out of convenience, not necessity, according to Pierre Noel, an energy security specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank.

“Would it be good news for North Korea if the oil stopped flowing? No. Is it likely to cripple the economy and force the government to change course on their foremost strategic priority? No. There are ample hydrocarbons in North Korea to substitute for those it imports from China.”



One way to gauge Pyongyang’s feelings for Beijing is to consider that Kim Jong Un has yet to visit his only major ally, a country that accounts for 90 percent of North Korean trade, since taking power in December 2011.

His late father, Kim Jong Il, hated to travel but went to China eight times during his rule, and Chinese leaders reciprocated with trips to Pyongyang.

Since communication at the highest levels has now virtually disappeared, Kim Jong Un feels little need to pay attention when Beijing calls on him to stop testing nukes and missiles.

In fact, North Korea has seemingly sought to humiliate Beijing by timing some of its missile tests for major global summits in China.

Last month, North Korean state media accused Chinese state-controlled media of “going under the armpit of the U.S.” by criticizing Pyongyang. In May, the North vowed to “never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China (or risk North Korea’s) nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is.”

It can be argued that the North Korea-China relationship never really recovered from Beijing’s decision in 1992 to establish formal diplomatic relations with Seoul.

But a big part of North Korea’s “profound sense of mistrust” and “long-term effort to resist China’s influence” stems from the 1950-53 Korean War, according to James Person, a Korea expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington. The war is often seen as the backbone of the countries’ alliance, he said, but the North blamed the failure to conquer the South on Beijing, which had seized control of field operations after the near-annihilation of North Korean forces.

In the 1970s, with North Korea pushing the United States for a peace treaty to replace the Korean War cease-fire that continues today, Washington chose to work through China.

By so doing, U.S. officials failed to see the limits of Chinese influence in the North, Person wrote last month on the 38 North website.

“Yet, nearly four decades later, asking China to solve the North Korean problem remains Washington’s default policy for dealing with Pyongyang.” This, he said, is “a recipe for continued failure.”


Foster Klug is AP’s bureau chief in Seoul and has covered Asia since 2005. Follow him at

A Blueprint for a US Strategy in Asia

October 21, 2017


(from left) Barry Pavel, Atlantic Council senior vice president, Arnold Kanter chair, and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, moderates a panel discussion with Matthew Kroenig and Miyeon Oh, senior fellows in the Scowcroft Center, as they lay out a strategy for US engagement in Asia. (Atlantic Council)

The United States should update, revitalize, and defend the rules-based international order while considering “hard-headed” engagement with China, according to the latest in a series of Atlantic Council strategy papers.

This “is not a strategy designed in Washington to be imposed on the region,” said Matthew Kroenig, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

Kroenig, along with Miyeon Oh, a senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center, is the author of A Strategy of the Trans-Pacific Century: Final Report of the Atlantic Council’s Asia-Pacific Strategy Task Force.

The paper outlines a strategy based on five pillars—the United States should strengthen security partnerships with its traditional allies and partners in Asia, practice hard-headed engagement with China, update the economic architecture, develop new partnerships to address emerging issues, and promote good governance, the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.

Kroenig said that while the first two pillars are vital for getting the US strategy in Asia right, it is equally essential to strike the right balance between them. “You need to make the traditional allies feel secure… but you have to do that without making China feel that you are containing it,” he said.

Kroenig and Oh participated in a panel discussion with Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, and Paula Dobriansky, a senior fellow in Harvard University’s Future of Diplomacy Project, at the Atlantic Council in Washington on October 19. Barry Pavel, senior vice president, Arnold Kanter Chair, and director of the Scowcroft Center, moderated the discussion.

The launch of A Strategy of the Trans-Pacific Century comes on the eve of US President Donald J. Trump’s first trip to Asia as president. Trump will travel to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines from November 3-14. While in Asia, he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.

The paper’s launch also coincides with the weeklong National Congress of China’s Communist Party, currently underway in Beijing. Xi has made no bones about China’s ambition to embrace a larger role on the world stage. Speaking at the national congress on October 18, he said China has entered a “new era” and that it “should take center stage in the world.”

US-China relations have been tested by the North Korean nuclear crisis [China is the main supporter of Kim Jong-un’s regime], the trade imbalance between the two countries, and China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. China has vowed to protect these claims using military force. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also assert sovereign rights over the resource-rich sea, which has key maritime routes.

In their paper, Kroenig and Oh paint two possible scenarios for the future. In the first scenario, the US-led rules-based international system has collapsed and China exploits this development by reordering the region to suit its interests. There would, as a result, be less international trade and investment and a rise of authoritarianism. “Unfortunately, there are currently indications that this future is at least plausible,” Kroenig and Oh write.

In the second scenario, the US-led, rules-based international order is intact but updated to reflect changed circumstances and the weight of emerging powers. “The United States and China compete… but they also come to a common understanding on major issues of strategic stability in the Asian security order,” the paper’s authors write. “They avoid outright conflict, and other states in the region are free to enjoy strong economic relations with both powers.”

This second future will only be possible “if the United States continues to think strategically about how best to adjust the international architecture to account for changing political and economic circumstances,” the authors added.

In her remarks, Oh emphasized strengthening the trans-Atlantic-Pacific partnership. “We believe that US allies in Europe and Asia are facing similar challenges… and they will be most effective at reaching a solution if they can bring their combined effort to solve these problems,” she said.


‘America First’

Early in his presidency, Trump withdrew the United States from the twelve-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement that would have cemented the United States’ trade partnerships in East Asia.

Trump has advocated an America First policy that highlights bilateral engagement at the cost of multilateral deals, and so his decision on the TPP came as no surprise to Mirpuri.

Mirpuri said that in Southeast Asia, free trade agreements are understood in terms of not only their economic value, but also their strategic benefits.

Mirpuri, noting that the world order is changing, said “business as usual is not going to work in this new order.”

“There are new elements in play both on this side of the Pacific as well as on the other side of the Pacific,” he said.

Oh said an important question to be asked is: “How can we place America First within the open trading system?”

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In the South China Sea, fishermen wonder where they can fish without angering China

The US’ Role in Asia

Mirpuri said that the United States is recognized in Asia as a resident power of the Pacific. “It is not an outsider, it is not an interlocutor, and the expectation is that the regional architecture can only function with an active presence of the United States,” he said. “If the United States steps back, I think that regional architecture is going to change very dramatically.”

The Singaporean envoy credited Trump and his administration with giving adequate attention to the United States’ Asian allies and partners. Even before he took office, Trump met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; he has also met the leaders of South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand. Trump will also meet Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, on October 23. Senior members of Trump’s cabinet have been similarly engaged with and undertaken trips to Asia.

Oh said a key question on the minds of leaders in Asia is whether the United States will be able to sustain its longstanding role as a security provider in the region while promoting the idea of America First. “The region needs a strong reassurance from the United States,” she added.

China’s growing role

Xi, who is expected to be confirmed to a second five-year term at the end of the national congress on October 23, has initiated the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This ambitious project involves China spending roughly $150 billion a year on building infrastructure in the sixty-eight countries that have signed up to the BRI.

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The United States has, so far, been cool to the idea.

Oh noted that the US Congress has not held a single hearing on the BRI. However, she said, there are now calls coming from within the United States to reconsider this indifference toward a significant initiative. “People are trying to think differently,” she said.

In Southeast Asia, the US-China relationship looms large.

“Countries like Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia, we operate in the space between US-China relations,” said Mirpuri. “When that space narrows we get squeezed, when that space broadens we have a lot more ability to operate.”

Dobriansky, too, alluded to the importance of China’s relationship with the United States and the region. “In getting it right there has to be a balance,” including addressing head on any challenges in the relationship, she said.

Despite this friction, China, in part due to its dominant presence in the region, is the main trading partner for most Southeast Asian countries. “We have seen a huge amount of benefit in our economic cooperation with the Chinese,” Mirpuri said of Singapore’s economic relationship with China.

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“What we would like to see is an even balance between the United States and China,” said Mirpuri. “It is not going to be a G2 world, but it is going to be a world where the dynamics between them are going to shift… The countries of the region have to adapt to this, institutions have to adapt.”

Ashish Kumar Sen is the deputy director of communications at the Atlantic Council. Follow him on Twitter @AshishSen.

Tillerson Balances Trump’s Goals With His Own

October 20, 2017

In interview, secretary of state reflects on his role in administration, warns China on trade and territory

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described how he seeks to manage an often-fraught relationship with President Donald Trump, saying he tries to deliver short-term victories to an impatient commander-in-chief while focusing on a longer horizon himself.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Mr. Tillerson acknowledged the contrasting styles of the two men and described his effort to bridge the gaps, while rejecting swirling rumors of his impending departure. “I see those differences in how we think,” Mr. Tillerson said in his State Department office. “Most of the things he would do would be done on very short time frames. Everything I spent my life doing was done on 10- to 20-year time frames, so I am quite comfortable thinking in those terms.”

His solution: “Delivering the incremental wins,” he said. “Incremental progress is taking you toward the ultimate objective, which is, as I say is eight, 10 years down the road.”

Mr. Tillerson said one of his top long-term priorities is shifting the balance of the trade and national-security relationship with China, even as he adopted Mr. Trump’s stern tone on Asia’s economic power.

On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson warned China that the U.S. has an arsenal of economic weapons to force Beijing to address trade imbalances and a continuing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

“We can do this one of two ways,” Mr. Tillerson said during the interview, seeming at times to speak directly to his Chinese counterparts. “We can do it cooperatively and collaboratively, or we can do it by taking actions and letting you react to that.”

Tools he might apply include tariffs, World Trade Organization actions, quotas and other mechanisms, he said.

The president and Mr. Tillerson are scheduled in November to visit Asia for a 10-day trip through five countries, including China, where the two former businessmen—both first-time public office holders—will push these issues.

Mr. Tillerson said the race to stem North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as trade issues with Japan and South Korea, will also dominate the trip. His tough talk on China came as the country’s leaders are meeting at the Communist Party Congress, a summit that takes place every five years.


  • Tillerson to Travel to Mideast, South Asia Next Week

In a response to Mr. Tillerson’s recent tough talk, the Chinese Embassy in Washington on Wednesday released a statement. “Through dialogue and cooperation with the countries in the region, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable. Countries outside the region should fully respect these efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,” it said.

“The track record demonstrates that China and the U.S. are better together. We hope the U.S. side can work in the same direction with China to ensure the healthy and sound development of the China-U.S. relationship,” the statement continued.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments follow a rocky summer in his relationship with Mr. Trump. Signs of tension between them have continued to overshadow the insistence from both men that all is well.

“If I were a world leader—doesn’t matter who—I wouldn’t talk to Tillerson,” said Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, citing the public divide between the two men. “The president must feel that this person can do the work for him…this is not the case here. It’s becoming antagonistic.”

During a meeting at the Pentagon one weekend in July, Mr. Tillerson rolled his eyes as he reluctantly acquiesced to the president’s criticism of the Iran nuclear pact. “It’s your deal,” Mr. Tillerson said in his Texas drawl as he peered in the direction of other cabinet officials, instead of Mr. Trump.

After that meeting, Mr. Tillerson referred to the president as a “moron,” according to people familiar with the conversations. Mr. Tillerson’s spokeswoman has denied he made the remark.

Mr. Trump has also disparaged his top diplomat, complaining that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t understand his “Make America Great” philosophy and has few original thoughts. “Totally establishment in his thinking,” he has told aides.

Asked Thursday if he believed Mr. Trump should be re-elected, Mr. Tillerson paused for a beat, then said, “Well, of course.”

“I mean, I don’t think about it, quite frankly, right now,” he said. “We’ve got these things we’re dealing with, but yeah.”

Early on in the administration, Messrs. Trump and Tillerson seemed to have an easy rapport. They are both successful businessmen, and Mr. Tillerson’s global experience as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. was a major appeal for the new president as he put his cabinet together.

When they first arrived in their new jobs and their wives had yet to join them in Washington, they often ate dinner together, joined by a combination of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ; John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff; and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While those dinners have largely stopped, Mr. Tillerson and the president continue to meet, as they did in the Oval Office on Thursday, in what was at least their second meeting this week. In what a State Department spokeswoman described as a “positive,” they had lunch together earlier this month after initial reports of name-calling between them.

Mr. Tillerson’s openness to speaking to reporters comes after he was prompted to hold a news conference to address rumors that he was on the verge of quitting and had made derogatory remarks about the president. On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson expressed confusion about rumors of his departure. “Who in the world is telling you that stuff?,” he said.

He said he would remain in the job “as long as the president thinks I’m useful.”

The secretary pointed to successes on strengthening capabilities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, particularly on counterterrorism, a peaceful pressure campaign on North Korea, the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the administration’s approach to South Asia.

“Look, I’m my own person, I’m a serious person,” Mr. Tillerson said. “And I’m not of any use to the president if I’m not that. If I try to be anything other than that, I’m no use to him.”

Mr. Tillerson said Thursday he likes to view foreign-policy problems according to region.

“I believe you solve a problem in Afghanistan not by just dealing with Afghanistan,” he said. “You solve it by solving a regional problem, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Middle East.”

He has honed that approach in brainstorming sessions that have evolved over his time at Foggy Bottom. In his first months in office, Mr. Tillerson and a small circle of aides convened weekend sessions during which they kicked around policy approaches by sketching ideas on a white board. Those sessions are now twice a week, sometimes on Saturdays when convenient, and include career state department officials, an official said.

The Texas oilman turned chief diplomat said he spends the bulk of his time concentrating on North Korea, Iran, counterterrorism, China and Russia.

Noting that U.S. and China officials have long been able to negotiate their differences peacefully, he repeatedly said China “went too far” in its push to claim resources in the South China Sea, one of the most ​important trade arteries for the world’s largest economies.

“Our view is you’re going to have to walk some of that back,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson said the Trump administration is seeking agreement on a code of conduct in the region, noting that other countries “are guilty of having done the same thing to a lesser extent” as China. He said the Philippines is looking for “mutually agreeable ways” to share disputed areas without conflict.

“Look, some things have gotten out of whack,” Mr. Tillerson said about U.S.-China relations. “We’ve got to address them.”

Write to Michael C. Bender at and Felicia Schwartz at

South Korea survey backs restarting construction of two nuclear reactors

October 20, 2017

SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean government-organized committee is recommending Seoul resume the stalled construction of two new nuclear reactors after an opinion survey it set up found nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were in favor of the move.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends the National Security Council (NSC) meeting in Seoul, South Korea on September 3, 2017. Blue House/Yonhap/via REUTERS

The two reactor projects were temporarily halted late in June after the government said it would let South Koreans decide and reflect their opinions in energy policy direction amid concerns over atomic safety. The suspension was one of the newly elected President Moon Jae-in’s key campaign pledges in efforts to allay public concerns over safety.

“Our final public opinion survey showed 59.5 percent of (responding) South Koreans chose to resume the construction,” Kim Ji-hyung, chairman of the committee, told a news conference on Friday. Stability of power supply was cited as a prime reason for the choice in survey responses, the committee said.

“Our recommendation to the government is restarting construction,” Kim said.

The committee conducted four rounds of surveys including phone interviews of 20,006 people, and public debates with some 470 citizens for the past three months. The results had a margin of error plus or minus of 3.6 percent.

The two 1,400-megawatt (MW) reactors – Shin Kori No.5 and Shin No.6 – were originally scheduled to be built by March 2021 and March 2022 respectively in the southeastern city of Ulsan.

South Korea’s presidential office said on Friday it respected the results of a public opinion survey and would pursue future steps without delay.

Shares of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) 5.6 percent following the announcement, while KEPCO Engineering & Construction and KEPCO Plant Service & Engineering surged as much as 20 percent and 10 percent respectively.

Reporting by Jane Chung; Additional reporting by Dahee Kim; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

U.S. carrier patrols off Korean peninsula in warning to Pyongyang

October 19, 2017

By Tim Kelly


ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN, Sea of Japan (Reuters) – The USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier, patrolled in waters east of the Korean peninsula on Thursday, in a show of sea and air power designed to warn off North Korea from any military action.

Reports in South Korea claim the US President is bolstering the deployment by sending the USS Ronald Reagan (pictured) and the USS Nimitz to the Sea of Japan next week

The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula on October 18, 2017. Picture taken on October 18, 2017. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

The U.S. Navy’s biggest warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors, sailed around 100 miles (160.93 km), launching almost 90 F-18 Super Hornet sorties from its deck, in sight of South Korean islands.

It is conducting drills with the South Korean navy involving 40 warships deployed in a line stretching from the Yellow Sea west of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan.

“The dangerous and aggressive behavior by North Korea concerns everybody in the world,” Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, commander of the Reagan’s strike group, said in the carrier’s hangar as war planes taxied on the flight deck above.

“We have made it clear with this exercise, and many others, that we are ready to defend the Republic of Korea.”

The Reagan’s presence in the region, coupled with recent military pressure by Washington on Pyongyang, including B1-B strategic bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, comes ahead of President Donald Trump’s first official visit to Asia, set to start in Japan on Nov. 5, with South Korea to follow.

North Korea has slammed the warship gathering as a “rehearsal for war”. It comes as senior Japanese, South Korean and U.S. diplomats meet in Seoul to discuss a diplomatic way forward backed up by U.N. sanctions.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since 2006. The most stringent include a ban on coal, iron ore and seafood exports that aim at halting a third of North Korea’s $3 billion of annual exports.

On Monday, Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy U.N. envoy, told a U.N. General Assembly committee the Korean peninsula situation had reached a touch-and-go point and a nuclear war could break out at any moment.

A series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3 and two missile launches over Japan, has stoked tension in East Asia.

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The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem steam alongside ships from the Republic of Korea Navy in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula on October 18, 2017. Picture taken on October 18, 2017. Courtesy Kenneth Abbate/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS Reuters

A Russian who returned from a visit to Pyongyang has said the regime is preparing to test a missile it believes can reach the U.S. west coast.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump had instructed him to continue diplomatic efforts to defuse tension with North Korea.

Washington has not ruled out the eventual possibility of direct talks with the North to resolve the stand-off, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said on Tuesday.

Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

Crippled by sanctions, North Korea may not last a year, defector says

October 18, 2017

‘Desperate’ need to force diplomatic opening with US driving North Korea’s provocative behaviour, defector Ri Jong-ho says

By Robert Delaney
South China Morning Post

Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 11:17pm

A former North Korean government official who defected to the US says North Korea is struggling against tough sanctions – and doubts the hermit state can last a year.

“Never before has the country faced such tough sanctions. I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year with these sanctions. People will die.”

North Korea’s provocative behaviour is a result of Pyongyang’s “desperate” need to force a diplomatic opening with the US, Ri told an Asia Society event in New York, adding that one of the government’s priorities is to sever Washington’s ties with South Korea.

“Right now the leadership of North Korea have deployed missiles aimed at the US and are doing these provocations, but they desperately want relations with the US,” he said.

“The North Korean leader wants to stay in power for a long time. He believes he must have friendly relations with the US to do that. They didn’t want South Korea involved in the talks.

“They just wanted two-way talks. What the North Korean leadership wants is to know how to warm relations with the US.”

“One can interpret recent actions and declarations regarding North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing in two ways.

“It should either be taken at face value or seen as an effort to extract maximum concessions should there be arms control negotiations in the future,” Paul Stares, a senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Centre for Preventive Action at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, told the South China Morning Post.

“What should be clear by now, however, it that any such negotiation would be about the size of the North Korean nuclear arsenal, not its existence. They are not going to give it up. Period.”

Ri also said North Korea’s relations with China had soured because of Kim Jong-un’s purge of his uncle Jang Song-thaek and other officials close to Beijing.

Kim’s hatred of Beijing intensified after China’s President Xi Jinping visited Seoul before Pyongyang on his first trip to the Korean peninsula.

Xi’s decision was prompted by the deaths of “thousands” allied with Jang and, by extension, China, Ri said.

Kim Jong-un took Xi’s decision as an insult and in July 2014 convened a meeting of high-ranking officials where the North Korean leader “called president Xi a ‘son of a bitch’ and called the Chinese people ‘sons of bitches’”, Ri said.

“Now China has blocked trade, which has never happened before, so this is the very worst point of their relationship.”

Ri’s comments were in stark contrast to the scepticism he had previously cast on United Nations sanctions meant to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Since defecting last year, Risaid that Pyongyang had managed to circumvent most of the restrictions – often with help from Chinese entities.

“I can see the North Korean economy like it’s in the palm of my hands,” Ri said.

“[North Korea] has to buy the raw materials in order for them to produce [their weapons] and they have to export products [to support this programme]. They are in a very difficult position, so they need to resolve that.”

While in Dalian, Ri served as head of the Korea Daehung Trading Corporation, which is managed by Office 39, a clandestine organisation under direct control of Kim’s family.

 North Korea circumvented United Nations sanctions by having China-stationed North Korean officials hand-deliver bags of US dollars in cash to captains of North Korean vessels heading back to home ports from China, former North Korean official Ri Jong-ho has said. Ri defected to the US last year. Photo: SCMP

Office 39 is responsible for procuring for the Kim government hard currency that is critical to support the economy and ensure the loyalty of party elites.

In July, Ri told The Washington Post that he oversaw the implementation of tactics North Korea used to bypass UN sanctions. Some of the circumvention methods included having China-stationed North Korean officials like Ri hand-deliver bags filled with millions of US dollars in cash to captains of North Korean vessels heading back to home ports from China, Ri told the newspaper. Another tactic was changing the names of companies targeted by UN sanctions, Ri said.

UN sanctions have been piling up on North Korea since 2006, after six-nation talks involving North Korea, China, the US, Japan, South Korea and Russia broke down. The most recent sanctions, passed in August and September, effectively cut all trade with North Korea except for humanitarian deliveries and limited quantities of oil.

Prompted by North Korea’s most recent nuclear detonation, on September 3, the UN Security Council unanimously passed less than a week later the latest resolution put forward by the US.

That resolution aims to cut North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products by 55 per cent and ban the supply of natural gas and natural gas derivatives to ensure they aren’t used as substitutes.

Moreover, banning North Korea’s textile exports and remittances by overseas North Korean workers to Pyongyang, the resolution would cut US$1.3 billion in revenues annually.

The US agreed to allow some oil shipments to keep flowing to North Korea to secure China’s approval.

Previous UN sanctions on North Korea stopped short of controls on oil and fuel, also at China’s behest, owing to concerns that such moves might destabilise the country and leave Beijing with a refugee problem. China shares a 1,400km border with North Korea along the Yalu River.

Ri defected in 2014 from his last posting, in the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian, travelling with his family to South Korea.

A North Korean official reaffirmed Pyongyang’s commitment to developing a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching “all the way to the east coast of the mainland US,” on Monday, telling CNN that the rogue nation was currently not interested in diplomacy with the US until it achieved that goal.