US threatens North Korea, courts China
Washington tries playing nice with Beijing while twisting its arm, too
TSUYOSHI NAGASAWA and OKI NAGAI, Nikkei staff writers
WASHINGTON/BEIJING -- The U.S. is pushing for tougher sanctions on North Korea and has deployed military assets near and on the Korean Peninsula, while also making conciliatory gestures toward China to secure its cooperation in dealing with the rogue nation.
At a ministerial meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on countries to consider additional sanctions and to halt diplomatic exchanges with the North.
"The time has come for all of us to put new pressure on North Korea to abandon its dangerous path," Tillerson said. "I urge this council to act before North Korea does."
In addition to Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se attended, despite the South not currently holding a seat on the council. The North did not attend.
The presence of the foreign ministers signaled the gravity of the Korea issue. "It's pretty rare for both the Japanese and U.S. ministers to be there," a Japanese official said. It is also unusual that a meeting is held preemptively before the North conducts nuclear or missile tests.
Washington continues to turn up military pressure on North Korea. "We'd love to solve things diplomatically, but it's very difficult," President Donald Trump said in a Thursday interview with Reuters. The nuclear carrier USS Carl Vinson conducted a joint drill with its F/A-18 fighter jets and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' F-15 fighters, demonstrating its readiness to react to any crisis.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is making various overtures for cooperation from China, a key backer of North Korea. "I believe he is trying very hard," Trump said of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Reuters, and described him as a "very good man."
Trump also said he would not speak on the phone again with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, as he did once, angering China. He probably hopes that by respecting Beijing's stance on Taiwan, Xi will be more cooperative on North Korea.
"We look forward to further actions that build on what China has already done," Tillerson said at the council meeting. China has threatened to impose unilateral sanctions on the North if the latter conducts another nuclear test, Fox News also reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to confirm the report Friday.
The U.S. seems to be discreetly twisting China's arm, but Beijing still insists on the need for dialogue. Wang on Friday called for the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear threat to be resumed.
If Friday's ministerial meeting "only focuses on scaling up sanctions and pressure on [North Korea], it may not only miss a rare opportunity but also escalate confrontation among various parties and undermine current efforts to promote peace and dialogue," Geng said.