South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin on Monday expressed his eagerness to normalize the sharing of military intelligence with Japan under an agreement that has faced the risk of being scrapped amid deteriorating bilateral ties.
The remarks, which Park made after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, were the latest sign of an improvement in the soured Tokyo-Seoul ties under new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and came amid concerns North Korea may carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test, or the first since 2017.
The concerns were also reflected in a meeting between White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China's top foreign policy official Yang Jiechi in Luxembourg, with Sullivan seeking cooperation on North Korean issues from Beijing, Pyongyang's most important ally and economic benefactor.
Park is making his first visit to the United States as foreign minister of Yoon, a conservative who has signaled a tougher stance on Pyongyang than his liberal predecessor Moon Jae In. He is also seeking better relations with Japan after they became marred by wartime disputes.
"We want GSOMIA to be normalized as soon as possible together with the improvement of Korea-Japan relationship," Park said in a post-meeting joint press conference with Blinken, referring to the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan.
"In order to deal with the threat from North Korea, we need to have a policy coordination and a sharing of information between Korea and Japan and with the United States," he added.
GSOMIA has allowed Japan and South Korea, which have no military alliance, to directly share sensitive intelligence information.
While Tokyo and Seoul averted the termination of GSOMIA amid their strained ties, the agreement had been left in an unstable state as the Moon administration had made clear the pact could be scrapped anytime.
Park and Blinken warned North Korea of the consequences of moving ahead with a possible nuclear test, with Park saying Pyongyang is at a "crossroads" of either isolating itself or returning to dialogue toward denuclearization.
"We affirmed that any North Korean provocations, including a nuclear test, will be met with a united and firm response from our alliance and the international community," Park said.
Blinken said the United States is "extremely vigilant" over the possibility of North Korea's seventh nuclear test and that it is preparing "for all contingencies" in close coordination with South Korea and Japan.
"Until the regime in Pyongyang changes course, we will continue to keep the pressure on," he said.
But Blinken also reiterated the U.S. government's position that Washington has "no hostile intent" toward Pyongyang and is "open to dialogue without preconditions."
The U.S. government has recently been warning that a nuclear test by North Korea could take place at "any time," citing preparations at its Punggye-ri test site.
North Korea has been testing ballistic missiles this year at an extremely rapid pace.
Should Pyongyang proceed with the testing of a nuclear device, it would only lead to a strengthening of deterrence efforts by the South Korea-U.S. alliance and international sanctions, resulting in further isolation, the South Korean minister said.
He also called on China to play "a very positive role" to persuade North Korea that "maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula requires their new thinking."
In May, China, along with Russia, vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution drafted by the United States seeking to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea following a series of missile tests.
This was the first rejection of a Security Council resolution aimed at preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and missiles since 2006, when the first such sanctions on Pyongyang were adopted.
According to a senior U.S. official, Sullivan, in the Luxembourg meeting, conveyed his concerns to Yang about Beijing's recent veto, which followed "a significant series of ballistic missile launches in violation of previous U.N. Security Council resolutions" and preparations for a potential nuclear test.
Sullivan also "made very clear" that the North Korean issue is "an area where the United States and China should be able to work together" given their "history of cooperation," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The meeting, which followed a May 18 phone call, included discussion of a number of regional and global security issues, with Sullivan underscoring the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to manage competition amid increasing rivalry between the two countries, according to the White House.
Sullivan also expressed concerns to Yang over what Washington views as "coercive and aggressive actions" toward Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island which Beijing views as its own, the official said.
Yang, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China, told his U.S. counterpart that the Taiwan issue will have a "subversive impact" on Washington-Beijing ties unless handled properly, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.
Yang was quoted by Xinhua as saying the United States must abide by the one-China principle, and that the risk will escalate if Washington attempts to contain Beijing with the Taiwan issue.