Mon. Dec 5th, 2022

President Joe Biden and the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Sunday pledged a unified, coordinated response to North Korea’s threatening nuclear and ballistic missile programs, with Biden saying the three-way partnership is “more important than ever” as North Korea steps up its provocations.

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Biden met separately with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol before the three sat down together on the sidelines of an East Asia summit in Cambodia.

The US president began by expressing his condolences for the surge in the number of people during Halloween celebrations in Seoul that left more than 150 dead, saying the US was grieving for South Korea. The meeting largely focused on recent escalations by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, although Biden said the three leaders would also discuss strengthening supply chains and keeping peace across the Taiwan Strait, while drawing on countries’ support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

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Click to play video: 'South Korea holds amphibious combat drills after North's provocations'

South Korea holds amphibious combat drills after provocations by North Korea

Biden also planned to seek input from Kishida and Yoon on managing China’s assertive posture in the Pacific region ahead of his face-to-face meeting with President Xi Jinping.

“We face real challenges, but our countries are more aligned than ever, more ready to take on those challenges than ever,” Biden said. “That’s why I look forward to deepening the ties of cooperation between our three countries.”

Both Yoon and Kishida discussed North Korea’s continued display of aggression, which has fired dozens of missiles in recent weeks. The launches include an intercontinental ballistic missile 10 days ago that triggered evacuation alerts in northern Japan, with allies warning of a looming risk of the isolated country conducting its seventh nuclear test in the coming weeks.

Speaking about the rally that took place in Seoul’s Itaewon district, Yoon said through a translator: “At a time when South Koreans are grieving in deep sorrow, North Korea has continued such provocations that expose the truth of the Kim Jong Un regime’s tendencies.”

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US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Saturday that Biden would use the meetings to strengthen the three countries’ joint response to the dangers posed by North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“What we would really like to see is improved trilateral security cooperation where all three countries come together,” he said. “That is absolutely true in relation to the DPRK because of the shared threat and challenges we all face, but it is also true, more broadly, in relation to our ability to work together to improve overall peace and stability in the region.”

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Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen sharply in recent months as the North continues its weapons demonstrations and the US and South Korea launch stepped-up joint defense exercises. Earlier this month, the South Korean military said two B-1B bombers trained with four U.S. F-16 fighter jets and four South Korean F-35 jets during the final day of the joint air force exercise “Vigilant Storm.” It was the first time since December 2017 that the bombers were deployed to the Korean Peninsula. A total of about 240 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries, participated in the exercise.

North Korea responded with its own show of force, flying large numbers of warplanes inside its territory.

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The Biden administration said it had sent repeated requests for talks with North Korea without preconditions on limiting its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but that Kim Jong Un’s government had not responded.

Biden said he planned to press Xi to use China’s unique influence on North Korea to reduce its aggressive behavior, as part of what is expected to be a wide-ranging meeting between the leaders on the sidelines of the Group of 20 gathering in Bali, Indonesia.

Click to play video: 'North Korea fires ballistic missile near South Korean waters'

North Korea fired a ballistic missile near South Korean waters

China “has an interest in playing a constructive role in containing North Korea’s worst tendencies,” Sullivan said Saturday. “Of course it’s up to them whether they do it or not.”

Biden told reporters on Sunday that he “always had direct conversations” with Xi and that this prevented both from “misjudging” his intentions. Their meeting comes weeks after Xi consolidated control of China’s political system with the conclusion of the Communist Party Congress in Beijing giving him a third term as the norm-breaking leader.

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“His circumstances have changed, to say the obvious, at home,” Biden said of Xi. Biden claimed his were, too, saying that after Democrats retained control of the Senate in the midterm elections, “I know I’m going in stronger.”

Monday’s meeting will be the first in-person meeting between the leaders since Biden was elected. US officials have expressed frustration in the past that lower-level Chinese officials have proved unable or unwilling to speak for Xi, and hope the face-to-face summit will allow for progress in areas of mutual interest _ and, more critically, a shared understanding of each other’s limitations .

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“I know him well, he knows me,” Biden said. “We just have to figure out where the red lines are and what the most important things are for each of us going into the next two years.”

As president, Biden has repeatedly accused China of human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, Beijing’s crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, coercive trade practices, military provocations against self-ruled Taiwan and differences over Russia’s prosecution of its war against Ukraine.

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Xi’s government has criticized the Biden administration’s stance on Taiwan — which Beijing eventually wants to unite with the communist mainland — as undermining China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese president also suggested that Washington wants to quell Beijing’s growing influence as it tries to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy.

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Biden also spoke briefly with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who this week sought his own meeting with Xi in an effort to ease Chinese sanctions against his country.

— reported Kim from Nusa Dua in Indonesia. Associated Press writers Josh Boak in Baltimore and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2022 The Canadian Press