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Editorial: U.S. secretary of state’s visit affirms resolve for joint action on N. Korea

There is a pressing need for Japan and the United States to work out a specific strategy for taking joint action to effectively cope with North Korea both diplomatically and militarily, a task necessary to deter that country’s threat at a time when the menace has reached “a new stage.”


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has visited Japan, holding talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Condemning North Korea’s nuclear and missile development as absolutely unacceptable, they confirmed the policy of facilitating close cooperation among the three nations of Japan, the United States and South Korea.


On March 6, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles almost simultaneously, sending them to splash down in waters off the Noto Peninsula. The missile launches are said to have been intended as a drill for a North Korean unit that would “attack U.S. military bases in Japan.” The possibility has also become strong that the North Korean government was organizationally involved in the murder of Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia.


Further vigilance needs to be exercised regarding the possibility that the aberrant regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could act in an utterly unbridled manner.


In their talks, Kishida and Tillerson agreed that Japan and the United States would coordinate their positions regarding the policy review by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. “The diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed,” Tillerson said, adding that “a different approach is required.”


It is true that the policy of “strategic patience” — an approach adopted by former President Barack Obama’s administration, which required the United States not to agree to a dialogue with the North unless it takes positive action — failed to function, a factor that has allowed North Korea to advance its development of nuclear and missile technologies.


The Trump administration takes a stance of not ruling out using military measures against the North, saying that “all options are on the table.”

S. Korea must honor deal


Pressure on the Kim regime must be reinforced in various forms. If the United States designates the North as a state sponsor of terrorism again, it would be an effective step. It is also necessary to urge China, which has announced the suspension of coal imports from North Korea, to implement even more rigorous sanctions against the North.


Tillerson clearly expressed support for the Japan-South Korea deal reached over the issue of comfort women two years ago. Kishida told him that Japan would persistently urge a new South Korean government, expected to be established in May, to honor the deal.


To maintain such joint efforts by Japan, the United States and South Korea to place the North under siege, it is essential to stand by the deal and implement it, including efforts to work toward the removal of statues of a girl symbolizing the comfort women.


The foreign ministerial talks also reached an agreement requiring Japan and the United States to cooperate in working toward stability in the East and South China seas. The two sides surely had China’s self-justified maritime advances in mind.


It cannot be overlooked that China has repeatedly entered Japanese territorial waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, while also making progress in building military footholds on man-made islands in the South China Sea. In cooperation with Southeast Asian countries, Japan and the United States should urge China to exercise restraint in attempting to change the status quo by force.


Kishida and Tillerson agreed to hold a meeting of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee — a two-plus-two meeting of the countries’ foreign and defense ministers — at an early date.


That meeting needs to provide an opportunity to study ways to improve and expand the two countries’ missile defense while also increasing joint vigilance and surveillance activities and drills by the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.


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