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Tillerson set to focus on N. Korea response in 1st Japan visit

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to arrive in Tokyo on Wednesday for talks with Japanese leaders, with Japan-U.S. coordination against North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear threat expected to be high on agenda.


On Thursday, Tillerson, in his first visit to Japan since assuming the post on Feb. 1, and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida are expected to affirm the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance following the missile launches by North Korea earlier this month that rekindled global concerns, Japanese officials said.


“It is extremely important that Japan and the United States closely and frequently communicate given the changing security environment in the region,” Kishida told reporters on Tuesday.


“I hope to have frank exchange of views on various issues, including on North Korea,” said Kishida, who will talk with Tillerson for the fifth time, including twice over the phone.


Tillerson’s visit to Japan, followed by trips to South Korea and China, comes as the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump is undergoing a review of its policy on North Korea, including putting the country back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.


Kishida and Tillerson are also expected to discuss concrete ways to deepen Japan-U.S. security and defense cooperation, eyeing an early convening of “two-plus-two” security talks involving the countries’ foreign and defense ministers.


After meeting Kishida and holding a joint press conference with him in Tokyo, Tillerson will also meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, the officials said.


On top of test-firing more than 20 ballistic missiles and conducting two nuclear tests last year alone, Pyongyang launched four missiles nearly simultaneously from its northeast on March 6, with one falling as close as 200 kilometers from the Sea of Japan coast.


The Chinese military’s rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas is also likely to be one of the main agenda in talks between Kishida and Tillerson, with Japan hoping for continued U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region under the Trump administration.


On the economic front, they will discuss how to enhance economic cooperation following the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which reversed the preceding administration’s promotion of the regional trade pact as a central part of its Asia policy.


The first round of a new high-level bilateral economic dialogue, to be led by Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who doubles as finance minister, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, is set to be held in Tokyo next month.


Kishida and Tillerson may also touch on their relations with Russia, given that the secretary of state is known to have close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, having served as chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. and was involved in natural gas and oil development project off Sakhalin.


Japan has recently engaged with Russia in a bid to move forward the long-stalled talks over Moscow-held, Tokyo-claimed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island prefecture of Hokkaido.


Japan will resume the “two-plus-two” security talks with Russia on March 20 in Tokyo, after putting the dialogue on hold for more than three years in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region in Ukraine in March 2014, which soured its ties with the United States and the Western countries.


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