TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – During talks in the suburbs of San Francisco, the foreign ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea have confirmed a policy to seek the denuclearisation of North Korea through dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
Amid the stalled talks between the United States and North Korea, Pyongyang has been heightening its confrontational stance, warning that the country will possess “new strategic weapons.”
The three countries had every reason to call for the North to restrain its provocations and to comply with US demands for denuclearisation talks.
The problem is the dissonance between the stance of Tokyo and Washington, which are pursuing the implementation of thorough sanctions against the North, and Seoul, which is trying to promote economic cooperation with Pyongyang.
In his news conference on Tuesday (Jan 14), South Korean President Moon Jae-in showed strong interest in the resumption of a Mount Kumgang tourism project in North Korea, saying that utmost efforts must be made to promote North-South cooperation as much as possible, without merely watching developments in the Washington-Pyongyang dialogue.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha explained this policy stance to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to obtain his understanding.
The North-South cooperation project, if carried out, is highly likely to violate the UN Security Council’s sanctions resolutions, as it would bring a huge amount of foreign currency revenue to North Korea.
President Moon also referred to the possibility of asking the Security Council to acknowledge the Kumgang project as an exception to the sanctions.
Pyongyang has engaged in repeated military provocations, including the firing of ballistic missiles, without displaying any intention to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
The time does not seem ripe for examining the easing of economic sanctions.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi emphasised that the three foreign ministers shared the view that “it is too early to relax the sanctions at this juncture.” Motegi and Pompeo likely reminded South Korea of the need to take that stance during the trilateral meeting.
The Moon administration is inclined to proactively promote cooperation with the North likely because it wants to tout progress of the North-South relationship to its left-wing supporters ahead of a general election set for April.
China and Russia have not strictly fulfilled a Security Council resolution that calls for sending home North Korean workers.
Beijing and Moscow insist on abolishing a provision that bans North Koreans from working overseas.
It is imperative to avoid a situation in which South Korea also moves to ease sanctions against the North and the encirclement network of Pyongyang will be rendered toothless.
The United States, for its part, should not neglect its response to the North, even amid its serious confrontation with Iran.
Washington needs to tenaciously call on Pyongyang to move toward resuming working-level negotiations.
Bilateral talks on the expense of hosting US troops in South Korea have had rough going.
Washington is said to be demanding a drastic increase by pressing Seoul to bear financial burdens beyond the conventional framework, including the costs of moving US troops stationed in South Korea.
The US-South Korea alliance is a pillar of deterrence against the North’s military provocations.
Washington is called on to give consideration to preventing the issue over hosting expenses from becoming entangled and ultimately undermining the credibility of the alliance.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.
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