Just last week North Korea test-fired missiles that landed in the Sea of Japan, rattling a US ally that still hosts more than 50,000 American troops.
The murder in Malaysia last month of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother has added to a sense of urgency to efforts to handle North Korea.
China remains North Korea’s only major ally and trading partner, but relations between the two countries are at a low.
This is particularly troubling as the Trump administration is reportedly weighing options previously considered unthinkable, such as the nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan or military action against North Korea.
Meanwhile, China has put the ball in the USA court, with the Chinese foreign minister suggesting a deal whereby North Korea agrees to stop testing missiles and the United States and South Korea stop joint military exercises.
But the military threat from North Korea is likely to dominate the discussion.
The first elements of the system arrived in South Korea last week. But, both she and Hurd agree, they’re not stopping Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program. “With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and refrain from any further provocation”, AP quoted the secretary of state as saying.
“At the time North Korea was supposed to have fired at offshore targets”, the official said.
Tokyo has an enviable position compared to South Korea in receiving Tillerson. He is scheduled to meet the foreign minister, as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who Trump has already met, and “had a great time” with.
“We shared the view that North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs are totally unacceptable”, Kishida said at a press conference following talks with Tillerson, who is in Tokyo on his first Asian tour to Japan, South Korea and China since taking office on February 1. He will then travel to Seoul on Friday and Beijing on Saturday. He says, to keep Pyongyang in check, the US needs those two countries on the same page, and some help from China. “We’ll finish installing [countermeasures] before THAAD begins to operate”.
And while the relationship with South Korea may have always been stable, the country is in the depths of a major political crisis following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. While all this is happening, the Trump administration is doing some serious soul-searching about how to deal with North Korea.
It’s also curious to know whether Tillerson means what he said in January about blocking China from islands it has reclaimed in disputed waters off its southern coast. -China initiatives that have been on ice since the presidential transition in the United States, including the talks toward a bilateral investment treaty.
And China has its own problems with United States trade policy. “And this is where we can achieve true security cooperation with China”.
China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea, where it has a territorial row with Japan, and the South China Sea, where it has disputes with the Philippines and several other Southeast Asian nations, will also be on the agenda during Tillerson’s visit as will trade. All of these would be welcome in Seoul and Tokyo.
North Korea said the arrival of the US strike group in the seas off the east of the Korean peninsula was part of a “reckless scheme” to attack it.
Stephen R. Nagy is a senior associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies at International Christian University.