HONOLULU (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts were meeting in Hawaii on Saturday to discuss the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea after Pyongyang started the year with a series of missile tests.
Blinken met in Honolulu with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong. Defense chiefs from the three countries said last week that North Korea’s recent missile tests were destabilizing regional security.
Some experts say North Korea is using the weapon’s tests to pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to resume long-stalled nuclear talks as the pandemic puts further strain on an already battered economy. by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions.
The Biden administration has offered North Korea open talks, but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions without significant cuts to the country’s nuclear program.
The tests also have a technical component, allowing North Korea to hone its arsenal of weapons. One of the recently tested missiles – the Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile – is capable of reaching the US territory of Guam. It was the longest range weapon the North had tested since 2017.
North Korea appears to be suspending testing during the Winter Olympics in China, its most important ally and economic lifeline. But analysts believe North Korea will dramatically increase its weapons testing after the Olympics.
Recent tests have rattled Pyongyang’s neighbors in South Korea and Japan. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who helped set up historic talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, said last month the tests were a a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and urged the North to cease “actions that create tension and pressure”.
The Security Council initially imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006. It tightened them in response to new nuclear tests and the country’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
China and Russia, citing the North’s economic woes, have called for the lifting of sanctions such as those banning seafood exports and bans on its citizens working abroad and sending earnings home. .
Blinken arrived in Hawaii from Fiji, where he met with acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and other Pacific leaders to discuss regional issues, particularly the existential risk posed by climate change. It was the first visit by a US Secretary of State to Fiji since 1985.
He began his Pacific tour in Australia, where he met his Australian, Indian and Japanese counterparts. The four nations form the “Quad”, a bloc of Indo-Pacific democracies that was created to counter China’s regional influence.
Hayashi and Chung held a separate bilateral meeting on Saturday for about 40 minutes before seeing Blinken. Japan’s foreign ministry said it reaffirmed the importance of cooperating together and with the United States to respond to North Korea and achieve regional stability.
The ministry said they also “frankly” exchanged views on ongoing disputes between the two countries, including Korean wartime workers and the sexual abuse of Korean women forced into sexual servitude by the government. Imperial Japanese Army.
Blinken also met separately with Chung. He met Hayashi earlier this week in Australia.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.