NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The frequent missile tests by North Korea have caused a flutter in the trilateral roost. Towards that end, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii over the weekend to discuss the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea after Pyongyang began the year with a series of missile tests.
In Blinken's reckoning, North Korea is "in a phase of provocation" and the three countries condemned the recent missile launches. "We are absolutely united in our approach, in our determination," he said after talks with the Japanese Foreign Minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, and the South Korean Foreign Minister, Chung Eui-yong.
The countries are "very closely consulting" on further steps they may take in response to North Korea, but no specifics have been offered. The three countries are reportedly eager for talks; the joint statement urged North Korea to engage in dialogue and cease its "unlawful activities."
They claimed they had no hostile intent towards North Korea and were open to meeting without preconditions. North Korea has a long history of using provocations such as missile or nuclear tests to seek international concessions.
The latest tests come as the North's economy, already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions, is hit hard by pandemic border closures. The tests are viewed by many as an attempt to pressure US President Biden's administration into easing the cache of sanctions.
The Biden administration has shown no willingness to do so without meaningful cuts to the North's nuclear programme, but it has offered open-ended talks. North Korea has rebuffed US offers to resume diplomacy, saying it won't return to talks unless Washington drops what it says are hostile polices.
The North bristles at both the sanctions and regular military exercises the United States holds with South Korea. The tests also have a technical component, allowing North Korea to hone its weapons arsenal.
One of the missiles recently tested - the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile - is capable of reaching the US territory of Guam. It was said to be the longest-distance weapon the North has tested since 2017.
Pyongyang appears to have put the tests on hold during the Winter Olympics in China, its most important ally and economic lifeline. But analysts believe North Korea will dramatically increase testing after the Olympics. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who helped set up the historic talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, said last month that the tests were a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and urged the North to cease "actions that create tensions and pressure."
The Security Council initially imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006. It made them tougher in response to further nuclear tests and the country's increasingly sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
China and Russia, citing the North's economic difficulties, have called for lifting sanctions like those banning seafood exports and prohibitions on its citizens working overseas and sending home their earnings.
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