Alarming nuance differencesU.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson returned home from East Asia without making any breakthroughs in the North Korean conundrum. In Beijing, his last stop in his visit to three nations, he met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats dominated conversation, but the two showed fundamentally different opinions.
Many hoped Washington would demonstrate a mediating role over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system for which Beijing has been retaliating against South Korea and its enterprises. In Seoul, Tillerson said China’s response had been inappropriate, but did not publicly speak on it in Beijing.
Tillerson said that his purpose of the visit to Korea, Japan and China was to understand the positions of the parties before designing policy. In Japan, he reconfirmed alliances and in Korea, he spoke on the North Korean nuclear threat and Thaad installation. With China, he discussed talks planned for April, conflict in the South China Sea, trade imbalance and the North’s nuclear threat.
The U.S. has many interests in East Asia, but what concerns us most is the North’s weapons and China’s pressure related to Thaad. But Tillerson failed to ease our concerns. In Seoul, he declared Washington was done with the “strategic patience” with the North, adding that all economic, diplomatic and security options were on the table. But in Beijing, he spoke theoretically that comprehensive actions were needed to make the North surrender nuclear weapons.
Beijing stayed cool. Just before Wang met with the U.S. visitor, Beijing allowed entry of 10 vessels carrying North Korean coal. Less than a month ago, China had banned the coal imports. Wang told Tillerson that China aspired peace for the Korean Peninsula and that the nuclear weapons were a problem between the U.S. and North Korea.
This does not work well for us as it means South Korea is excluded from talks while Pyongyang advances its weapons. While Tillerson visited Beijing, Pyongyang said it had conducted a rocket engine test of “historic significance.”
Seoul is neglected in the developments. Washington and Beijing are sidestepping North Korean weapons issues, while Pyongyang looks to negotiate with the United States. South Korea is engrossed with the upcoming election. But the government and the candidates must pay attention to security and join forces to come up with a solution to the North Korean problem.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 20, Page 30