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If North Korea adheres to its confrontational stance toward the United States, it will only deepen the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula. It is indispensable for Japan, the United States and South Korea to closely cooperate to increase vigilance against the North.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has held talks with South Korean Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn in Seoul. They agreed on a policy of implementing "intensive punitive measures" if North Korea goes ahead with further military provocations.
It cannot be overlooked that the North launched a ballistic missile immediately before Pence's visit to South Korea. Although the launch ended in failure when the missile exploded in midair, North Korea's action was undeniably a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions adopted against that country.
The North is set to observe the 85th anniversary of its army on April 25. There are concerns that the country will conduct a nuclear test, which would be its sixth, and also launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.
At a press conference, Pence gave a warning to the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying, "We hope to achieve this objective [Pyongyang's denuclearization] through peaceful means, but all options are on the table," and, "The era of strategic patience is over."
The United States has sent the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and guided-missile destroyers to waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
To bolster pressure on the North, it has become even more important to seek action from China. On the day of the failed missile launch, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had telephone talks with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that his administration has not designated China as a foreign exchange manipulator, saying that China is "working with us on the North Korean problem."
Much hinges on ROK vote
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had good reason to tell the Diet that "there is no point in seeking dialogue [with North Korea] for the sake of dialogue," adding, "It is necessary to exert pressure on [the country] so it will agree to earnest dialogue."
He expressed his intention of advancing security cooperation between Japan and South Korea, including the sharing of information based on the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Such efforts should be steadily promoted.
Campaigning for the South Korean presidential election is under way in the wake of the dismissal of former President Park Geun-hye. Casting and counting votes will take place on May 9.
How to cope with the increasingly tense North Korean situation has emerged as an important point of contention in the race. Ahn Cheol Soo, a center-left candidate, is moving up quite fast behind Moon Jae In, a left-wing candidate who has been ranked first in approval ratings.
Among conservative South Koreans, there is strong and deep-seated distrust toward Moon, who is conciliatory toward the North. This may be a factor behind the increasing popular support for Ahn.
Calling for attaching importance to the U.S.-South Korea alliance, Ahn has expressed a favorable stance on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. This is in contrast to the negative view held in this respect by Moon, who has said, "[The matter] should be decided on by the next administration."
South Korea must not forget that its foreign policy should be based on an awareness that its cooperation with Japan and the United States is essential for deterring the North.