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US seeks Japan, China aid on NoKor threat

The South China Sea has long been the center of our attention in this part of the world, because of the overlapping claims of several nations on parts of the maritime area. When new American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came to Asia last week, however, it was to seek cooperation to meet the threat posed by North Korea not only to the surrounding countries but also to the US itself.

The trip was the new Donald Trump administration’s first incursion into this part of the world and showed how seriously the US government views recent developments in North Korea. That country has made no effort to hide its intention to develop a ballistic missile capable of reaching the US mainland with nuclear warheads which it has also been testing.

In any outbreak of conflict in this part of the world, the immediate blow will fall on South Korea with which the North is still technically at war, since they never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War of 1950-53. North Korea’s mid-range missiles aimed eastward have mostly fallen into the Sea of Japan, and one long-range missile aimed southward fell in the Pacific near the Philippines’ Batanes Island. North Korea could readily aim these missiles to the north and west towards China and this has caused a great deal of concern in Beijing.

China reportedly is conflicted on how to deal with North Korea, its traditional ally, fearing that it could collapse. But last March 8, China called on North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile activities. In exchange, it said, it would ask the US and South Korea to halt large-scale military exercises which have been scheduled. China sees a “head-on collision” because of the missile tests and the war games.

It was into this regional “hotspot” that Secretary Tillerson arrived last week, immediately meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, proceeding days later to Beijing where he told Chinese officials that “the policy of strategic patience is over.” With this move to seek China’s aid over North Korea’s unabated missile and nuclear tests, the US has taken a new direction in its foreign policy under President Trump.

We hope this new US initiative will bear fruit not only in the Sea of Japan, Yellow Sea, and East China Sea shared by China, Korea, and Japan, but also further south in the South China Sea. Here, where the Philippines is locked in confrontation with some of its neighbors, the US and China together could help bring about a peaceful understanding to replace the current atmosphere of confrontation.