China, North Korea set to top Mike Pompeo’s agenda during trip to Asia
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will head to Asia next week with an agenda dominated by a stalemate in Washington’s nuclear talks with North Korea and impasses with Beijing over trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Pompeo will travel to Thailand on Tuesday for the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) regional forum where North Korea’s launch of medium-range missiles this week and increasingly assertive Chinese maritime actions will be major issues. US officials on Friday declined to say if Pompeo planned specific meetings on either matter in Bangkok but acknowledged they were major concerns.
North Korea had suggested it would not attend the annual meeting, at least at the foreign minister level, as it had done in the past, according to the officials, who were not authorised to preview Pompeo’s trip publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
But the officials would not rule out direct discussions between the two sides, noting that US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had agreed to resume negotiations at their most recent meeting at the demilitarised zone in June.
Pompeo said on Thursday that he was hopeful the talks on getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles – which have stalled several times since Trump and Kim’s first summit in Singapore last year – could restart in the coming weeks.
“We’re working our way towards that, I think we’ll be able to pull that off in just a handful of weeks,” he said in an interview with Fox News.
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He discounted suggestions that the most recent missile launches would imperil a new round of talks.
“I think we’re still going to go sit down and have a conversation about this,” he said. “North Korea has engaged in activity before we were having diplomatic conversations far worse than this … Lots of countries posture before they come to the table.”
Trump referred to the launches as “small” and not necessarily an indication that Kim was rejecting a resumption of negotiations.
Still, there has been no visible progress on denuclearisation since the June 2018 Singapore summit. Although Pyongyang has not conducted any new nuclear tests since then, numerous independent experts have reported continuing work and expansion at several missile and atomic sites citing analysis of commercial satellite imagery.
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Pompeo will head to Bangkok as a new round of trade talks between US and Chinese negotiators gets under way in Sahngai.
The latest negotiations come amid fresh disputes in the South China Sea, where Washington and some Southeast Asian neighbours have accused Beijing of being provocative.
A senior US official said that recent actions, including the ramming of Filipino and Vietnamese fishing ships by Chinese vessels in disputed areas “fly in the face of” Beijing’s claims to be interested in peace and security in the region.
Meanwhile, China has expressed anger over new US arms sales to Taiwan and the passage this week of an American destroyer through the Taiwan Strait. In response, Beijing again warned against foreign interference in its relationship with the island that it regards as a renegade province.
Pompeo will spend three days at the security forum in Bangkok before visiting Australia for an annual meeting of the US and Australian foreign and defence ministers. Mark Esper, the newly sworn-in US defence secretary will join him in Sydney for the talks.
On his way home, Pompeo will become the first sitting secretary of state to visit Micronesia, where he will meet leaders from several Pacific island nations that have compact associations with the United States, including Palau and the Marshall Islands.