Japan, Australia want peaceful solution to N. Korea threat

by Walter Sim

TOKYO (The Straits Times/ANN) - Both support US' approach of laying out all options but say China needs to do more to help.

Japan and Australia, long-time allies of the United States, support Washington's approach of laying down all options on the table to curb the North Korean threat.

But their foreign and defence chiefs, who met in Tokyo yesterday for their seventh ministerial talks, stressed their preference for peaceful options even as their chief ally ramps up its rhetoric against Pyongyang's sabre-rattling.

"While we support the US' approach that all options are on the table... we want to ensure stability and security on the Korean peninsula by peaceful means," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a news conference yesterday.

Both sides agreed on the need to urge China to do more, given that it is the wayward North's political ally and major economic benefactor.

Ms Bishop noted that Beijing shares a "unique relationship with North Korea and is in fact the source of virtually all of its foreign direct investments, trade, energy, expertise and the like".

Yesterday's meeting involved Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defence Minister Tomomi Inada and their respective Australian counterparts, Ms Bishop and Ms Marise Payne.

They said they welcomed the US' intention to bolster its regional presence to mitigate security issues that include North Korea and also the South and East China Seas.

Their meeting came on the heels of US Vice-President Mike Pence's visit to Japan. He had said on Wednesday that by 2020, some 60 per cent of the US naval fleet will be deployed in the region.

"As we are both allies of the US, we think it is important that we work together to discuss ways to help shape the thinking of the new Trump administration," Ms Bishop said at the outset of yesterday's meeting.

The meeting followed a bilateral summit in Sydney in January, between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull. They had vowed to deepen defence ties and hold more joint military exercises.

The defence chiefs yesterday revealed that these include fighter jet drills that will begin next year.

Meanwhile, the leaders emphasised, without naming China, the "fundamentals of securing free- flowing trade routes in a stable Indo-Pacific region, and a rules- based global order".

China claims almost the entire South China Sea and has been building defences on three artificial islands it constructed in the waterway. The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan have also laid claim to territory in the South China Sea. China has a separate row with Japan in the East China Sea over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets.

In a joint statement, the leaders "emphasised the importance of self-restraint, and their opposition to any unilateral action which increases tensions (as well as) to the use of disputed features for military purposes".