Defense Secretary Esper Meets with Japanese and South Korean Leaders

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper met with Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in Bangkok, Thailand, November 16, 2019.

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[Secretary Esper] Minister Jeong, Minister Kono. Thank you for being here. I am honored to host today’s Trilateral Ministers Meeting. The Trilateral Defense Partnership between the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan, is vital to our shared security. Our societies share common values and interests, that bind us together, and our defense partnership remains the bedrock of our relationship. Together, our nations remain committed to a stable, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. This is particularly important at a time when the international rules-based order is under duress. I look forward to hearing your assessments of the security situation in North Korea, where the United States remains committed to the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK. I want to thank the Republic of Korea, and Japan, for their significant contributions, to the United Nations security counsel resolution enforcement efforts. I also look forward to discussing the challenges that a growing and more assertive China poses to the stability of the region. Beijing is increasingly resorting to coercion and intimidation to advance its strategic objectives at the expense of other nations. The Unites States seeks a constructive relationship with China that is resolve oriented. But we will stand firm in upholding well established international rules and norms. Our continued Trilateral Partnership remains the key to addressing these security challenges and to preserving our freedom and our prosperity. It is important that we all work together closely to achieve our shared goals. This means looking beyond and overcoming bilateral issues that harm our efforts and play into the hands of Pyongyang and Beijing. As such, we will also talk about the importance of information sharing between allies. Thank you once again and I now invite Minister Jeong and Minister Kono to make any opening comments to the press. Minister Jeong?

[Jeong] Mr. Esper, Minister Kono, it is very good to see you again here in Bangkok. For Secretary Esper, we’ve already had an opportunity for us to talk to the media, right before our visit to Thailand. We have reaffirmed the steadfast, ROK-US alliance and it was a very meaningful time for the both of us. Minister Kono, I know that we have met already this morning for our bilateral meeting and we have exchanged robust opinions and I hope to have these occasions more often in the future, so we can contribute to a future oriented development of the ROK-Japan relationship.

Looking upon the security environment, within the region, I believe that we stand in a circle juncture that can lead back to a past of conflict and friction, or lead upwards into a bright future of population coexistence.

So, to begin, to go against summit in regard to the missions of North Korea, with no talks recently between North Korea and the US falling short, there has been attempt to derail itself from the talks of denuclearization and will continue firings of missiles.

Furthermore, players within the region are utilizing the logic of power to further interests, as well as influence, and leading up to the instability of the middle region.

And even for our closest friend, geographically, with Japan, for historical, political, and economic reasons, there have been small and large difficulties for our relationship.

So, within this dynamic of oppressing security situation, I believe it’s very meaningful to have a cabinet level discussion between the three nations on these topics.

And I look forward to having an open-hearted discussion with the Secretary and the Minister, with regards to their valuable opinions, with regards to peace and stability within the region, as well as the peninsula. And I believe, and I think, it’s a very important occasion for us to be able to talk about peace and stability between the three of us, especially when it comes to the shared value security interests of the three nations. I hope also to contribute to future orientation of the ROK-Japan relationship. Thank you very much.

[Secretary Esper] Thank you, Mr. Jeong. Minister Kono?

[Kono] Well, I’m honored to meet the Secretary of Defense Esper and the Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo. The first time since I assumed my role as the Defense Minister, last September. This is the 13th Trilateral Defense Ministerial Meeting among Japan, US, and the Republic of Korea. On this occasion, it is very important to share thoughts and discuss future cooperation under the current situation, where no one could be optimistic about North Korea. North Korea has repeatedly launched more than 20 missiles this year, including new types of ballistic missiles as well as a submarine launched ballistic missile. This act is in clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and we express the deepest regret. The repeated launch of ballistic missiles is a serious threat to peace and stability of Japan and the region. Diplomatic efforts have continued to achieve CVID of North Korea’s all weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, and ballistic missiles of all ranges, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution. We have yet seen, complete progress in disposal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles. In these circumstances, as Defense Authority of Japan, the US, and Republic of Korea, what we need to do is to continue to promote trilateral defense cooperation and to make every effort in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. I expect to have informative discussion today, not only to make steps forward in trilateral cooperation for implementation of UN Security Council resolutions, in a complete manner, but also to maintain readiness to any future action taken by North Korea. Thank you very much.

[Secretary Esper] Thank you, Mr. Minister. Thank you all. Thank you.

I would describe it as a large loss.

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