Flash points | Diplomacy | East Asia
The top diplomats from the three countries met in New York on Thursday to coordinate the joint response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa (center) and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin (right), on the sidelines of the 77th high-level session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on 22 September 2022
Credit: US State Department photo
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin met on Thursday his American and Japanese counterparts, Antony Blinken and Hayashi Yoshimasa, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“The Secretary and the Foreign Ministers emphasized the importance of working together to address the DPRK’s destabilizing behavior and advance our shared goal of achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the joint statement said. DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Since South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May, Seoul has sought to strengthen its military alliance with Washington in an effort to effectively deter Pyongyang’s provocations. To that end, the US and South Korea held renewed joint military exercises last month, which had been scaled back since 2018, a decision made by then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.
The top diplomats condemned the spate of North Korea’s ballistic missile tests this year and “reaffirmed that a DPRK nuclear test would be met with a strong and resolute response from the international community.” Based on satellite analysis, Pyongyang has been conducting months-long restoration activities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, believed to be in preparation to conduct a seventh nuclear test.
Park, Blinken and Hayashi “also expressed their grave concern over the DPRK’s escalating and destabilizing messages related to nuclear weapons use, including the adoption of a new nuclear policy law,” the joint statement said.
Two weeks ago, North Korea officially codified a law allowing the use of its nuclear weapons under certain conditions. In addition to giving himself the flexibility to use nuclear weapons as a preemptive measure, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said publicly that his country’s status as a nuclear weapons state has become “irreversible” under the new law.
China and Russia previously blocked the imposition of new sanctions in the UN Security Council when the North resumed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing in March. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis and tensions between China and the US over Taiwan, China and Russia, both allies of North Korea, could continue to veto any further sanctions against North Korea again – although they did not block new sanctions as North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test in 2017.
In this context, the US has assured its allies in the region that it will use every military asset, including its nuclear arsenal, to protect them in case of attack. Blinken “reaffirmed the firm commitments of the United States” to the defense of South Korea and Japan during the meeting on Thursday.
Blinken and Hayashi both expressed support for Yoon’s “bold initiative,” the South Korean administration’s offer to entice North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic gains. However, Pyongyang has already sharply rejected this initiative, closing the door on any dialogue with the Yoon administration during its five-year term.
On Friday, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived at the port of Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, for a joint military exercise with the South Korean navy. For the first time since 2017, the US and South Korea are involving an American aircraft carrier in the exercises, sending a relatively strong message to Pyongyang.
With China set to hold its most important political event – the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party – in mid-October, Beijing will have no surprises on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is expected to postpone any significant provocations against South Korea and the United States in the next month. However, Kim Jong Un may resume testing his ballistic missiles in response to the exercises.