Japan Foreign Minister Taro Kono urges countries to cut ties with North Korea

Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono gives a speech at Columbia University in Manhattan, New York.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono gives a speech at Columbia University in Manhattan, New York. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Thursday (Sept 21) called on countries to cut diplomatic ties with North Korea as part of pressure to end the regime's nuclear and missile drive.

Hours after the United States announced its toughest economic sanctions yet on North Korea, Mr Kono said that more than 160 countries had diplomatic relations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's regime.

"We have to urge these countries to cut their diplomatic and economic relationships with North Korea," Mr Kono said in a speech at Columbia University on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Echoing the UN address of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr Kono said: "It is not the time for dialogue for the sake of dialogue. Now is the time for the international community as a whole to maximise the pressure on North Korea to take concrete actions towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula."

Mr Kono estimated that North Korea would lose 90 per cent of its export revenue if all nations implemented existing UN Security Council resolutions.

China remains the main economic lifeline for North Korea. Beijing fears the impact if the regime collapses, including an exodus of refugees.

The US-educated Mr Kono, who took up his position a month ago, delivered his speech in fluent English in what he described as a broad policy speech.

Mr Kono voiced hope for smoother relations with China, which has a range of disputes with Japan, including over territory and wartime history.

"We are the second and third largest economies in the world. Hence, we have a great responsibility for the peace and prosperity of the region," he said.

"Therefore, we should not confront each other. We should not allow tension to dominate the entirety of Asia," he said.

Mr Kono is the son of Mr Yohei Kono, a prominent dove in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who is best known for issuing Japan's landmark 1993 apology for sexual enslavement during World War II.

The elder Kono recently raised eyebrows when he appeared to criticise his son's government, saying there should be more cooperation with China over North Korea.