North Korea nuclear threat looms as U.S., Japan and South Korea meet on NATO sideline

Diplomatic friction between South Korea and Japan that could jeopardize their strategic partnership with the United States appears to be easing after years of bitter bickering between the two main U.S. allies in Northeast Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Seryol both expressed hope that historical tensions between the two countries will be resolved at a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, where the two met with President Biden on Wednesday.

The tripartite leaders’ meeting was the first of its kind since September 2017, when Washington, Tokyo and Seoul became increasingly concerned that North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear weapons test that could test the strength of the U.S. regional security alliance.

A White House report called the Biden-Yon-Kishida face-to-face discussions a “historic trilateral meeting where the three leaders discussed strengthening trilateral cooperation across the Indo-Pacific, especially in response to ongoing Evolving Threat Aspects”. [North Korea’s] Illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. “

“President Biden underscored America’s strong commitment to defending Japan and South Korea,” the administration said.

While the statement did not mention a possible nuclear test by North Korea, U.S. intelligence officials recently said they found Pyongyang at a major test site preparing for what would be the country’s seventh full-scale nuclear test and the first since 2017. .

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In recent years, U.S. efforts to counter the North Korean threat have been challenged by longstanding tensions between South Korea and Japan over bilateral issues. Things got so bad that Seoul in 2019 threatened to cancel a key intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan over lingering issues that partly date back to Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century.

Koreans are still angry at the way Japan treated the country, first as a colony in the early 20th century and then during World War II.

Japanese officials argue that Tokyo has long since repaid for its actions and accuse Seoul of trying to rekindle historical grievances for domestic political gain.

Friction between the two soared in 2018 when Tokyo accused a South Korean navy destroyer of targeting Japanese aircraft with a fire-control radar. Tokyo then announced trade sanctions on exports crucial to South Korea’s technology sector – a move that sparked a flare-up of anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea. While the two countries have insisted on a tripartite alliance with the United States, tensions have persisted in recent years.

However, the arrival of new leaders in Japan and South Korea over the past year has sparked hopes of détente, with both Mr Yoon and Mr Kishida expressing a desire to strengthen the tripartite alliance with Washington.

Mr Yin and Mr Kishida had a brief one-on-one meeting on Tuesday night at a dinner hosted by Spain’s King Felipe VI on the sidelines of the NATO summit. South Korean officials told VOA that Mr. Yoon told Mr. Kishida that he planned to “resolve the outstanding issues between South Korea and Japan as soon as possible” so that the two countries could “move forward in a future-oriented manner.”

Kyodo news agency quoted Japan’s foreign ministry as saying Mr Kishida told Mr Yoon at the dinner that he hoped the South Korean president would work to restore the “extremely severe” relationship between the two countries to a “healthy state”.

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