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US, Japan, South Korea hold talks on North's 'provocations'

November 13, 2022

The leaders of the US, Japan and South Korea have held talks in Cambodia amid the heightened missile testing activity by North Korea this month. Joe Biden said the three countries were "more aligned than ever."

U.S. President Joe Biden, center, meets with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
North Korea's heightened military testing activity this year, and this month in particular, has kept the US, Japan and South Korea occupiedImage: Alex Brandon/AP Photo/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met in Cambodia on Sunday for bilateral and trilateral talks, with a particular focus on North Korea's flurry of missile tests in 2022 in general, and particularly early in November. 

"We face real challenges, but our countries are more aligned than ever," Biden said at the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh. "So I look forward to deepening the bonds of cooperation between our three countries." 

He referred to South Korea and Japan as "critical allies" that share US concerns about what he described as North Korea's "provocative behavior." 

'Unprecedented' North Korean missile testing

North Korea has conducted a record number of missile tests in 2022, and on November 2 it launched the most projectiles in its history on a single day, prompting South Korea to conduct a launch of its own. Pyongyang blamed US-South Korean military exercises, saying its actions were a response to what it called a "rehearsal" for invasion. 

South Korea's Yoon said that the North's recent provocations showed its regime's "nature against humanitarianism." 

Biden had started by offering Yoon his condolences after the fatal crowd surge in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul. Yoon said North Korea's failure to take this into account during last week's series of tests had spoken volumes.

"At a time when South Koreans are grieving in deep sorrow, North Korea pushed ahead with such provocations which lays bare the Kim Jong Un regime's true inclinations," he said.

Japan's Kishida described recent North Korean military activity as "unprecedented" and said it was expecting more to follow. 

"This trilateral summit is timely given we are expecting further provocation," Kishida said in opening remarks at the meeting. "I look forward to strengthening the coordination between the US, South Korea and Japan to respond firmly." 

The Biden administration says that it has sent repeated requests to North Korea for talks on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs with no preconditions, but that it has had no response. North Korea has called on the US to first abandon its "hostile" policies, comments typically interpreted as an appeal for sanctions relief before negotiations.


South Koreans prepared for North Korea's nukes

Trilateral talks also precede Biden-Xi meeting

The talks with Japan and South Korea also directly precede Biden's scheduled face-to-face talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at next week's G20 summit in Bali. It will be the pair's first in-person meeting since Biden took office. 

The US president said he was planning to seek input from Kishida and Yoon on managing China's assertive posture in the Pacific region. 

Biden tried to strike a positive note before his meeting with Xi, saying that he knew the Chinese Communist Party leader well from his time as vice president and that their focus should be on clearly communicating their priorities to each other. 

"I know him well, he knows me," Biden said. "We've just got to figure it out, where the red lines are and what are the most important things for each of us going into the next two years."

Biden to meet Xi at G-20 summit

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had told reporters more about the goals for increased cooperation between the US, Japan and South Korea ahead of the meeting. 

"What we would really like to see is enhanced trilateral security cooperation where the three countries are all coming together," Sullivan said, "That's acutely true with respect to the DPRK because of the common threat and challenge we all face, but it's also true, more broadly, about our capacity to work together to enhance overall peace and stability in the region."

Next ASEAN chair, Indonesia, warns of 'new Cold War'

At the closing ceremony of the ASEAN summit, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen handed over to Indonesia, which will host next year's event. 

Indonesia also happens to be the current chair of the G20 and had faced considerable pressure from western countries to exclude Russia from its summits in light of its invasion of Ukraine, a step it was hesitant to take. 

President Joko Widodo took the opportunity to warn against more such tension in Biden's presence on Sunday, in comments seemingly referring to tensions between China, the US and its allies. 

"ASEAN should not let the current geopolitical dynamic turn into a new Cold War in our region," Widodo said. "ASEAN must become a peaceful region and anchor for global stability, consistently uphold international law and not be a proxy to any powers."

msh/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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