US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in South Korea on Friday for the second leg of an Asian tour focussed on finding a “new approach” for North Korea after what he described as two decades of failed efforts to denuclearize the reclusive state.
Tillerson, a former oil executive with no prior diplomatic experience, began his first Asian visit as secretary of state in Japan on Wednesday and travels to China on Saturday.
In South Korea, he will visit the heavily fortified border with North Korea, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), before meeting Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also acting president.
In Tokyo on Thursday, Tillerson said 20 years of diplomatic and other efforts, including a period when the United States provided North Korea with $1.35 billion in assistance “to take a different pathway”, had come to nothing.
“In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required. Part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach,” he told a news conference, his first as secretary of state.
North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile launches since the beginning of last year.
Last week, it launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.
Washington has been pressing Beijing to do more to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. Tillerson is expected to tell the Chinese leadership that the United States intends to increase missile defences in the region, despite China’s opposition, a US official told Reuters in Washington.
South Korea, one of the staunchest U.S. allies in Asia, has agreed to deploy a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in South Korea.
China says the system’s radar is a threat to its security.
Tillerson faces a delicate task in South Korea, which is in political turmoil after former President Park Geun-hye was ousted last week in a corruption scandal. A presidential election will be held on May 9.
A South Korean liberal opposition politician, Moon Jae-in, who has raised questions about the THAAD deployment, is leading in the opinion polls.
China resents US pressure to do more on North Korea and says it is doing all it can but will not take steps to threatened the livelihoods of the North Korean people.
China has urged North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile tests and said South Korea and the United States should stop joint military exercises and seek talks instead.
Chinese state media reiterated on Friday that the main problem was between the United States and North Korea, and denounced what it called the “throwing of dirty water” at China on the North Korean issued by Washington and Seoul.
“They seem to have forgotten that the root of the nuclear issue on the peninsula is the deeply ingrained mutual distrust between the United States and North Korea and the long-time, intense confrontation between North and South,” the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said in a front-page commentary.
Tillerson will also meet commanders of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea. – Reuters