MANILA and Tokyo appeared to differ on the prospect of dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a bid to de-escalate tensions in the region over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile development.
Returning from a two-day official visit in Tokyo, where he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he failed to raise his proposals for the US, Japan, China and South Korea to sit down with the North Korean leader to tackle Pyongyang’s weapons development and missile tests.
“No. We just talked about the perils of a war and all others were just incidentals. The main issue really is the, I said, miscalculation—any of the countries involved—[would lead to destruction],” Duterte told reporters in Davao.
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What was agreed upon was to work in close coordination to step up pressure on North Korea—a line that he, Abe, and US President Donald Trump had in common.
“We condemn these tests and call on all concerned stakeholders to return to the negotiating table to peacefully resolve the situation,” Duterte said at a joint press appearance after his meeting with Abe on Monday, during which they also agreed on infrastructure, counterterrorism and public safety initiatives.
Abe, meanwhile, said that he and Duterte had agreed to “cooperate to address common issues,” including North Korea.
The Japanese leader and Trump, who recently spoke by phone earlier last month, both agreed that ”dialogue for the purpose of dialogue“ was meaningless in resolving North Korean threats.
Duterte, however, insisted on the need to talk with Pyongyang, whose nuclear arsenal is sparking fears in the region.
“Everybody, I said, the one thing maybe, which is sorely lacking now is communications,” the President said.
Duterte also said only China “has that kind of competence” to talk with Pyongyang about the “costs of a nuclear blast.”
In a Kyodo news report, a Japanese government spokesman said afterward that Abe and Duterte shared an awareness of the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and affirmed the importance of the thorough implementation of relevant UN sanctions.
Duterte has apparently softened his stance since earlier describing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “fool” and a “son of a bitch” who is “playing with dangerous toys.”
In September, following the passage of United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for tougher economic sanctions against the North, Manila suspended trade relations with Pyongyang.
North Korea’s provocative actions came ahead of Trump’s first presidential visit to South Korea next week amid an escalating war of words between him and Kim.
The reclusive country has made significant strides in its atomic and missile technology under Kim, who took power after the death of his father and longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il in 2011.
Since then he has overseen four of the country’s six nuclear tests and hailed atomic weapons as a “treasured sword” to protect the nation from invasion by the United States.
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Manila on Nov. 12 to participate in the special gala celebration of the 50th annivesary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In a press briefing in Washington, US State Press Secretary James Brady said Trump will participate in bilateral meetings with President Duterte and other leaders on Nov. 13 during the celebration of the 40th anniversary of US-Asean relations at the US-Asean summit.
Brady said that both Trump and Duterte have a “warm rapport,” citing the “exchanges of letters” between both Presidents.
Trump’s Asian trip will cover Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
“The President’s travel is going to underscore his commitment to longstanding US alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm US leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” Brady said.
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