TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence agreed Tuesday to involve China more in restraining North Korea and to keep military action as an option while pursuing a peaceful resolution to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile provocations.
The two met over a roughly hourlong luncheon at the prime minister's official residence here, with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross among those in attendance. This was followed by a 35-minute discussion with fewer participants.
Pence opened the discussion of North Korea by saying the U.S. seeks peace but that "peace comes through strength." Abe stressed the importance of a peaceful outcome but acknowledged a need to apply pressure so that Pyongyang would become open to dialogue.
The vice president spoke at a news conference following the Japan-U.S. economic forum in the afternoon with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso. Pence said the U.S. and Japan will work with China and continue exerting diplomatic pressure until North Korea ends its nuclear and missile programs.
Tension surrounding the issue soared after President Donald Trump told Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on April 7 that the U.S. is prepared to act on its own. "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will," Trump said in an interview ahead of the meeting.
Yet Abe and Pence affirming the foundation for a peaceful solution represents a shift in tone for the U.S. following the nation's recent airstrike on Syria, use of a massive ordnance air blast bomb in Afghanistan and orders to send the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula.
China is showing signs of cooperation toward a firmer stance against North Korea, such as by halting regular flights between the two countries' capitals. The press has started to release opinion pieces suggesting that Beijing take hard-line action should Pyongyang conduct a sixth nuclear test.
Events could spur China to agree on action that would impact North Korea's entire economy, said an editorial Tuesday in the Global Times, run by the Communist Party's People's Daily news outlet. Continued reckless behavior by Pyongyang could force China and the U.S. to impose further sanctions, the editorial noted, such as by halting petroleum supplies or an American freeze on financial activities.
The editorial's stance likely is supported by an agreement during the recent meeting between Xi and Trump that their two countries will work together on the North Korean issue. Beijing has become frustrated by the North's repeated provocations that ignore China's opposition.
Yet China still values the stability of the Korean Peninsula, upholding its stance against unilateral sanctions. Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Tuesday that China will work with other countries under the framework of the United Nations Security Council. He made clear that Beijing would cooperate in exerting pressure but not endorse solo actions like the U.S. attack on Syria.