The discord between the United States and North Korea was thrown into sharp relief at a recent meeting of foreign ministers at the Asean Regional Forum in Singapore.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho raised strong objections to the US, asserting that it is taking the lead in continuing sanctions on the North even after a summit meeting between the two nations in June. The assertion is based on a self-centred line of argument that the US should offer rewards because the North has made “goodwill measures”, including the demolition of a nuclear test site.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had every reason to insist, at a press conference and other venues, on the importance of maintaining pressure on the North to achieve denuclearisation. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono also appealed for the implementation of the sanctions resolutions on North Korea imposed by the UN Security Council. A chairman’s statement issued at the Asian Regional Forum foreign ministers’ conference urged North Korea to fulfill its “stated commitment to complete denuclearisation”.
The problem is that the North has taken no substantive steps to achieve denuclearisation. Scrapping the nuclear test site does not lessen the nuclear threat. North Korea should immediately freeze its nuclear and missile development programmes and declare all its nuclear weapons and materials as well as related facilities, thereby setting a course for their dismantlement.
Amid the conciliatory mood created by the US-North Korea summit talks, Ri actively held talks with Thailand, Vietnam and other Asean nations. He may have sought to weaken joint efforts to hem in his country through sanctions, but there is a limit to what can be attained in attempting to improve relations with these nations amid the lack of progress in denuclearisation.
It is cause for anxiety that North Korea regards the issuance of a declaration formally ending the Korean War as virtually a precondition for its denuclearisation, and that China side with the North in this respect. Ri has expressed his dissatisfaction, saying the United States has retreated from its position on a declaration of the war’s end after the summit meeting.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed his intention to join in such a declaration, saying, “The proclamation on the termination of war could be released if everyone does not wish to start a war again.” His remark seems to indicate his nation’s strategy aimed at placing priority on securing its own influence on the Korean Peninsula, rather than the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear arms.
The United States has expressed its view that it is too early to issue a declaration of the war’s end at a time when the nuclear issue is deadlocked. It should maintain a cautious stance on the matter.
The Japanese and North Korean foreign ministers briefly spoke with each other in Singapore. At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his eagerness to hold summit talks with North Korea, saying, “Efforts must be made to resolve the nuclear, missile and abduction issues and then build a new Japan-North Korea relationship.” The Japanese government must cautiously examine the possibility of direct dialogue with the North, while closely cooperating with the US and South Korea and ascertaining the circumstances encompassing the nuclear problem.