|President Park Geun-hye speaks at an ASEAN Plus Three summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listening. (Yonhap News)|
Their meeting came two days after Seoul’s National Intelligence Service reported that Pyongyang had reactivated a nuclear reactor in its main Yongbyon complex, which is capable of yielding enough plutonium to build one nuclear bomb a year.
Kerry came here to attend the East Asia Summit on behalf of President Barack Obama, who canceled his trip to the gathering amid a political stalemate in the U.S. that caused a partial government shutdown.
The allies view Pyongyang’s resumption of the reactor as a move to pressure them to restart the multilateral aid-for-denuclearization talks, which have been stalled since the last session in the late 2008.
Despite its stated policy of concurrently pursuing nuclear armament and economic development, the cash-strapped regime has called for an early resumption of the six-party talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
But Seoul and Washington have consistently urged Pyongyang to first take “sincere measures” to present its denuclearization commitments.
In recent weeks, tension on the peninsula has increased as the North unilaterally postponed the reunions of separated families late last month and restarted a nuclear reactor recently.
In an angry response to joint maritime drills among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, the North’s supreme command has also put its military on an emergency footing.
The two-day drills, which were delayed due to a typhoon this week, began Thursday with the participation of the nuclear-powered, 97,000-ton carrier USS George Washington. The drills were conducted as part of routine defense-oriented exercises, but Pyongyang denounced them as a rehearsal for a war against it.
Also during the talks, Park and Kerry were expected to touch on Washington’s support for Japan’s efforts to expand the role of its Self-Defense Forces. Kerry was expected to talk of the need to strengthen the trilateral cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan to ensure regional security.
Seoul and Beijing have been unnerved by Tokyo’s push to increase its military influence in the region and beyond, as they still harbor deep resentment over Japan’s wartime atrocities and its perceived failure to fully atone for them.
During the so-called two-plus-two meeting of their defense and diplomacy chiefs last week, Washington and Tokyo agreed to revise the 1997 guidelines for their defense cooperation by the end of next year, increase security collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond and enhance the realignment of U.S. troops in the archipelago state.
In particular, Washington officially supported the Shinzo Abe government’s push to alter the interpretation of its war-renouncing constitution and allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense ― the use of force to respond to an attack on an ally, such as the U.S.
The pursuit between the U.S. and Japan of stronger security ties comes as the Sino-U.S. rivalry over regional preponderance and the Sino-Japan row over a chain of islands in the East China Sea have intensified.
Lager in the day Park also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to discuss North Korea and other issues.
By Song Sang-ho, Korea Herald correspondent