Trilateral talks highlight divide over North Korea

By Hiroki Takao / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe first trilateral Japan-China-South Korea summit meeting in 2½ years produced agreement in a wide range of areas, including cooperation to ensure the complete denuclearization of North Korea and promoting free trade.

Although the mood for improving ties was evident, a stark division emerged over how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues — Japan favors maintaining pressure on Pyongyang, while China and South Korea are seeking a more reconciliatory path.

At a joint press conference after the talks in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outlined his position that Japan must cooperate with the international community at this opportunity for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and for peace and stability in Northeast Asia, and that this must lead to concrete actions by North Korea.

Abe also emphasized he had gained the support of South Korean President Moon Jae In and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who stood alongside Abe, on the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.

A sense of unity was evident as the three leaders spoke about their desire to make denuclearization a reality.

However, there had been some difficulty ironing out the wording used in the joint statement issued after the meeting. Japan wanted the text to include the expression “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” but China and South Korea pushed back against this strict demand due to concern it could pour cold water on the mood for dialogue with North Korea. In the end, all three sides settled on “complete denuclearization.”

Furthermore, the statement refers to the denuclearization of “the Korean Peninsula.” To Japan, South Korea and other nations, this implies denuclearizing North Korea. However, it is said that North Korea and China assume this concept also includes South Korea, which is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The Japanese government intends to stay in step with the United States by maintaining pressure on North Korea until it takes “concrete actions” toward denuclearization.

The Japanese and U.S. governments consider such actions to include North Korea shipping its plutonium to another nation, opening up all its nuclear fuel processing and uranium enrichment facilities and accepting inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The short-term goals include having North Korea abandon its nuclear and missile programs. According to a senior Foreign Ministry official, the time frame being considered for this is “by around the summer of 2020 at the latest, when the next U.S. presidential election campaign will be fully under way.”

U.S.-North Korea talks are continuing behind the scenes on topics including methods for verifying denuclearization and what “rewards” Pyongyang would receive for surrendering its nuclear program. These talks could continue up to the last minute, diplomatic sources said.

Gradual easing

According to a senior government official, the Japanese government believes the key point of the U.S.-North Korea summit talks “will be whether the United States will be able to make Pyongyang commit itself to taking concrete actions toward denuclearization.”

China has advocated a gradual easing of sanctions in step with progress in scuttling North Korea’s nuclear program, an approach that favors offering “enticements” at an early stage. South Korea is taking great pains to ensure the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting does not collapse and is strongly leaning toward a policy of reconciliation with Pyongyang.

Moon and Li held a bilateral meeting at a Tokyo hotel on Wednesday. According to the South Korean President’s Office, both leaders agreed that North Korea alone should not be subject to demands, and that if Pyongyang implements “complete denuclearization,” the “international community, including the United States, must actively take part in ensuring a bright future for North Korea” by guaranteeing the regime’s security and providing economic development assistance.Speech

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