There has been no change whatsoever in the present situation of North Korea pushing forward with its nuclear and missile development programs. The international community, diverted by the friendly mood of the Olympics, must not relax its pressure on North Korea.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is visiting Japan. In order to make North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions, Abe and Pence agreed that the two countries will hold fast to the policy of continuing to apply “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang, and encourage South Korea to maintain its cooperation with Japan and the United States.
At a joint press conference following the talks, Abe said with emphasis: “North Korea’s provocative actions have been continuing. We should not be blinded by North Korea’s smile diplomacy.”
Pence described North Korea’s regime under its leader Kim Jong Un as “tyrannical and oppressive.” He also said, “All options are on the table,” suggesting that military action has not been excluded from consideration.
Taking advantage of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea is heightening the momentum toward reconciliation between the two Koreas. It is obvious that Pyongyang is trying to cut South Korea off from Japan and the United States and undermine the net encircling North Korea.
It is well-timed for Japan and the United States, prior to the opening of the Games, to make clear at a high level their stance of exerting pressure on North Korea and to give Seoul a warning not to be won over by Pyongyang.
Trilateral cooperation vital
Pence will hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In on Thursday while Abe will have a meeting with Moon on Friday. By looking squarely at the threat posed by North Korea, they have to reconfirm the policy of continuing to apply economic sanctions and military pressure on North Korea.
South Korea needs to make a distinction between its cooperation with North Korea over the Olympic Games and the security issue.
Abe and Pence also agreed on the importance of strictly implementing the sanctions resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.
It is said that North Korea has been smuggling refined petroleum products and the like repeatedly through ship-to-ship transfers on the open sea. In order to block North Korea from evading the sanctions, it is essential for countries to share information on the smuggling and to cooperate in surveilling and controlling such activities.
Reinforcing deterrent power, with a possible contingency on the Korean Peninsula in mind, is also a challenge.
Prior to the talks with Abe, Pence inspected at the Defense Ministry a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air missile interceptor system, which is deployed to counter possible ballistic missile attacks from North Korea. By boosting bilateral ties in a multilayered manner and at various levels, including between the Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department, and between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, the effectiveness of the Japan-U.S. alliance should be enhanced.
Deepening security cooperation among the three countries, including South Korea, is also vital.
In the economic field, Japan and the United States will continue negotiations in the Japan-U.S. economic dialogue chaired by Pence and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso. Pence emphasized the need for “free and fair trade.”
The U.S. administration under President Donald Trump, advocating its “America First” policy, is calling on Japan to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan.
Negotiations should be moved ahead constructively so that the difference in the two countries’ positions on trade will not impair Japan-U.S. relations as a whole.