Cho Hyun-dong, the first vice minister of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, met his U.S. and Japanese counterparts in Washington on Monday. In the vice-ministerial meeting, the three representatives reaffirmed their trilateral efforts to cope with the growing nuclear and missile threats of North Korea.
“First of all, we committed ourselves to respond firmly to any North Korean provocation and work toward complete denuclearization of North Korea,” Cho said in the joint press briefing after the meeting.
Reaffirming the fundamental goal – complete denuclearization of North Korea – the three countries jointly seek to achieve, Cho emphasized that “peace without denuclearization is fake peace.” He recalled the unprecedented ballistic missile launches North Korea carried out last year.
“In response to this threat, we will strengthen ROK-U.S. combined defense posture, and at the same time enhance our trilateral security cooperation with U.S. and Japan,” Cho said. (ROK is an acronym of South Korea’s official name: Republic of Korea.)
While reiterating the South’s firm response to the North’s missile threats, including its pledge to “cut off the revenue supporting North Korea’s WMD development,” Cho opened room for talks with Pyongyang.
“We reiterated that we are open to dialogue. We urge North Korea to return to denuclearization talks,” Cho said. As he also brought up Seoul’s concerns on human rights issues in North Korea, however, Pyongyang will unlikely revive the currently dormant nuclear and inter-Korean talks. Human rights is a sensitive issue for North Korea.
Months after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May 2022, Pyongyang ruled out the possibility of holding inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation by belittling the Yoon administration and Yoon himself. Based on its intensified belligerence toward the United States and South Korea, Pyongyang will likely boost its missile development until Washington meets its demands first.
Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of the U.S. State Department, also emphasized the necessity of forming a united stance to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Unlike Seoul, Washington prefers using the phrase, complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in order to make clear that neither Seoul nor Pyongyang should have nuclear weapons.
“Standing united, our nations will deter the DPRK and urge it to give up its nuclear weapons program and abide by its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Sherman said. (DPRK is an acronym of North Korea’s official name: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.)
Although the North is banned from developing and testing any ballistic missile programs under U.N. Security Council resolutions, it carried out a record number of missile tests last year and developed new, powerful, and advanced missile programs. China and Russia, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, vetoed the U.S.-led efforts to impose additional sanctions against North Korea to hold it accountable for the ballistic missile launches.
“We call for full implementation by the international community and encourage the DPRK to return to dialogue,” Sherman said.
Mori Takeo, Japan’s vice foreign minister, took the same stance as his South Korean and U.S. counterparts on ways to deal with the North’s nuclear and missile programs. “While North Korea has publicly stated its intention to further enhance its nuclear and missile programs this year, concerted efforts of the international community are critical,” Mori said.
Last week, North Korea held a military parade to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). During the event, it showcased dozens of its intercontinental ballistic missiles to clearly send a message to the U.S. that its nuclear and missile programs will continuously be enhanced going forward. Separately, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also vowed to increase his nuclear arsenal “exponentially.”
In light of the advancements of the North’s nuclear and missile programs, Washington and Seoul should overhaul their policies on North Korea as their efforts and measures have not functioned well to deter the North’s missile tests since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January 2021. However, Washington and Seoul have stressed that North Korea must make efforts toward denuclearization before engaging in the leader-level dialogue that the North seems to prefer, while Pyongyang has made clear it will not engage at all unless the U.S. and South Korea remove their “hostile policies.” The arms race will likely be intensified in the coming years, which would further destabilize the security of the Korean Peninsula.