The United States (US), South Korea and Japan all urged China on Monday to help rein in its ally North Korea and vowed solidarity in defending Seoul from any further attacks from the North.
However, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her counterparts Kim Sung-Hwan of South Korea and Seiji Maehara of Japan were vague about how they would deal with North Korea’s “belligerent” behavior.
The trio met in Washington after North Korea shelled a South Korean border island on November 23, killing two marines and two civilians, and after it revealed a uranium enrichment program that alarmed US scientists.
Kim, the South Korean foreign minister, said the three shared the view that the Stalinist state in Pyongyang would face “severe consequences” if it engaged in further provocations.
But any possible consequences remained unclear.
“We all agree that North Korea’s provocative and belligerent behavior jeopardises peace and stability in Asia,” Clinton said at a closing press conference with Kim and Maehara.
“We want the people of South Korea to know that we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you, and we are deeply committed to your defence.”
The chief US diplomat opened the talks with a moment of silence for the dead and injured in what she described as an “unprovoked attack” on Yeonpyeong island.
She agreed with her counterparts that the attack violated the 1953 armistice, while the uranium enrichment program is a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and the North’s own 2005 commitment to denuclearise.
Clinton nonetheless kept the door open to dialogue with North Korea.
But the North must first repair ties with the South and “cease its provocative behavior” for long-stalled six-party negotiations to resume, she said in agreement with Kim and Maehara.
‘No, thank you’ to emergency talks
The allies declined China’s invitation to hold emergency six-party talks with Russia in Beijing this month after North Korea shelled the island.
“We appreciate Beijing’s initiative to propose an emergency six-party gathering. However, we first need an appropriate basis for the resumption of talks,” Clinton said.
“Any effort, of course, must start with North Korea ceasing all provocative and belligerent behavior.”
The three diplomats vowed to pursue cooperation with China and Russia but urged Beijing to use its leverage with its ally in Pyongyang.
“We would like China to have a more clear stance in giving warning to North Korea and to contain these provocative actions by North Korea,” Kim said through an interpreter, noting South Korea would consult further on this topic with Washington and Tokyo.
“We would hope that China, which chairs the six party talks, [would] play an even greater role in relation to North Korea,” Maehara said, also speaking through an interpreter.
Regional security and stability
Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson Satoru Sato told reporters that the ministry’s Asian affairs chief Akitaka Saiki will now travel to Russia and China to discuss the outcome of the trilateral meeting.
Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon also met with Kima and Maehara.
Donilon said the trilateral consultations “demonstrate the strength of our shared commitment to advancing regional security and stability”, according to a spokesperson.
The White House said Obama, in a phone call late on Sunday, urged his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao to send “a clear message” to North Korea that its shelling of South Korean territory and other provocations were “unacceptable”.
In the latest US military show of support for South Korea, the Pentagon announced it was sending its top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, to visit Seoul on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Officials said Mullen, the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet South Korean counterparts — including new Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin, who replaced Kim Tae-Young when the latter resigned after the shelling.
South Korea’s military began a major live-fire exercise on Monday, following a major show of naval strength last week by Seoul and its close ally Washington designed to deter Pyongyang from future attacks.
And US and Japanese forces were in the midst of their biggest-ever joint military exercises, which had been scheduled before the shelling of the island.
The Washington Post meanwhile reported that the Obama administration, in an apparent toughening of its approach toward China, has privately started accusing Beijing of “enabling” North Korea to start a uranium enrichment program and to launch attacks on South Korea.
Citing an unnamed senior US official, the newspaper said Washington is moving to redefine its relationship with South Korea and Japan, potentially creating an anti-China bloc in northeast Asia. — AFP