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Pence wags a finger at Korea-U.S. trade pact

21 April 2017, 01:51 | Melvin Schneider

Pence, headed to Japan, turns focus to trade with key ally

Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. REUTERS  Damir Sagolj

Pence made these comments to reporters directly following a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo where he assured leaders of the "iron-clad" alliance the West in the face of North Korea's nuclear threats.

Pence, dressed in a green military jacket, said aboard the hulking USS Ronald Reagan that President Donald Trump's administration would continue to "work diligently" with allies like Japan, China and other global powers to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang.

"We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan", he after arriving in Japan with his wife and two daughters earlier in the day.

Pence said the US trade deficit has more than doubled in the five years since the US-South Korea free trade agreement began and there are too many barriers for US businesses in the country.

Vice President Mike Pence reassures Japan of American commitment to reining in North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions, after warning that USA strikes in Syria and Afghanistan show the strength of its resolve.

In a sign of Beijing's hardening attitude, the Global Times, a state-run tabloid, said in an editorial on Monday that China could enforce "stricter measures" against North Korea, including a ban on oil exports, or join a USA -led effort to block the North's access to worldwide financial markets.

The DPRK's state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying, "We will bolster up in every way our capability for self-defense to cope with the U.S. reckless moves for a war and defend ourselves with our own force".

But, mindful that this would likely trigger massive retaliation and casualties in South Korea and Japan, US officials say the Trump administration's main focus is on tougher economic sanctions.

A day after North Korea launched its latest test missile, an experiment that ultimately fizzled out, Mr Pence said the United States was hopeful China would use its "extraordinary levers" to persuade the North to give up its nuclear arms.

Trump campaigned on an "America First" pledge, promising to overhaul trade agreements that he said hurt USA jobs.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeated China's line that the crisis could only be resolved by diplomacy.

Wang told reporters that although USA officials have made clear that a military strike remains on the table, he believes that Washington would still prefer to de-escalate tensions through multi-sided talks.

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Abe said Japan likewise hopes for peaceful dialogue with Pyongyang, "but at the same time, dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless".

The other called for a freeze on US-South Korean military exercises and a freeze on DPRK missile and nuclear tests.

Pence puts Japan on notice that Washington wants results "in the near future" from talks it hopes will open markets to US goods, adding that the dialogue could lead to negotiations on a two-way trade deal. In part, it is meant to take the place of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the regional trade pact that Trump withdrew from shortly after taking office.

Mattis credited China with trying to help get the North Korea situation "under control" with the goal of denuclearizing the peninsula.

In Japan, Pence's two main goals are to spur increased US access to Japanese markets and strengthen Japanese foreign investment.

With no United States trade representative yet in office and other key positions still unfilled, such nitty-gritty discussions will have to come later.

But the meetings could indicate how forcefully the US will pressure Japan to further open its farm and automotive sectors.

While Japan's trade surplus with the U.S.is much smaller than China's, Trump has decried the imbalance, especially in auto exports.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters over the weekend that Japan might push ahead with a revised, 11-nation version of the TPP despite the US rejection of the trade accord.

For now, both sides seem keen to downplay potential for conflict.

Before Pence's arrival, Aso told Japanese broadcaster NHK that Japan was providing, "not friction, but cooperation".

Pence developed ties with Japanese business and political leaders as governor of IN, a state that is home to Subaru (9778.T), Honda (7267.T) and Toyota (7203.T) plants, and about 260 Japanese companies IN total employing about 60,000 residents.



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