US Secretary of State Says Direct Talks Being Held With North Korea Over Nuclear Program

This is not surprising to me, the only thing surprising is that the US Secretary of State is admitting to the talks:

The United States is communicating with North Korea as it seeks to encourage the regime to abandon its build up of nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

Mr Tillerson made his comments in Beijing after holding talks with Chinese leaders on Saturday amid rising concerns over Pyongyang’s military programme.

Washington is known to have back channels which it uses to help negotiate the release of US citizens who have been held captive in the North.

But Mr Tillerson’s disclosure suggests US officials are also using secret talks to convince Pyongyang to hold official negotiations aimed at easing tensions.  [The Telegraph]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Backs President Trump’s Comments on North Korea During Guam Visit

Secretary of State Tillerson provides some context in regards to President Trump’s recent comments about North Korea:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played down President Donald Trump’s incendiary warning to North Korea on Wednesday, saying he was just trying to send a strong message in language its leader would understand.

Tillerson, speaking to reporters before landing in Guam, a U.S.-held Pacific island that Pyongyang threatened to strike, said he does not believe there is an imminent threat from North Korea.

“I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” he said.

 Trump on Tuesday warned North Korea it would face “fire and fury” if it threatens the United States, prompting the nuclear-armed nation to say it was considering firing missiles at Guam.

“I think what the president was just reaffirming is that the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and our allies, and we will do so,” Tillerson said.

The international community had a “pretty good week” with respect to North Korea, he said, citing new U.N. sanctions and strong statements coming out of a meeting of world leaders in Asia.

“In response to that, North Korea’s rhetoric is just ratcheted up, louder and louder and more threatening,” Tillerson told reporters. “So I think the president, what the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language.”  [CNBC]

You can read more at the link, but the media is of course in full freak out mode not because of Kim Jong-un, but because of President Trump.  My guess is that President Trump in an unconventional way is trying to make it clear to Kim Jong-un to not miscalculate North Korea’s response to the recent UN sanctions that were passed.  Additionally I think the President may be sending a message to China to make sure North Korea does not miscalculate as well because it could lead to an outcome the Chinese leadership does not want to happen.

Remember that the Ulchi Focus Lens US-ROK military exercise is coming up later this month which is typically when a North Korean provocation cycle happens.  Whatever the North Koreans have planned this year they may have to be reassess based off of President Trump’s warning.

Secretary of State Says US Is Not Seeking North Korea Regime Collapse

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had some interesting things to say about North Korea:

Rex Tillerson

The United States does not seek a regime change in North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday, as tensions renewed over the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea conducted its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile last week, fueling concerns that the communist nation may be close to delivering a nuclear weapon to the U.S. mainland.

Pyongyang said the test was aimed at giving a “stern” warning to the U.S., which is bent on employing sanctions and pressure on North Korea and justifies the regime’s will to develop nuclear weapons with threats of war.

“We do not seek a regime change. We do not seek the collapse of the regime,” Tillerson said in a surprise appearance at a State Department press briefing. “We do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula. We do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel.”  (…..)

He noted, however, that the U.S. does not blame China for the North Korean nuclear conundrum and Pyongyang “does not define” Washington’s relationship with Beijing.  (….)

“Given the history of enmity and mistrust, this is no doubt a hard message for the North to accept at face value. But I believe it is sincere and worth the North exploring.”  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Announces Strategic Patience Policy With North Korea Has Ended

It appears to me that the Trump administration’s get tough on North Korea policy that includes increased emphasis on military strike rhetoric is aimed more at China than North Korea.  Tillerson seems to be basically signaling to the Chinese that if they don’t enforce stronger sanctions and reign in North Korea then the US will by military means:

In a press conference in Seoul, Tillerson declared the end of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” policy and signaled a sharp turn toward a tougher policy involving ramped-up sanctions, pressure and even military actions.

“The policy of strategic patience has ended,” he said. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”

Tillerson said that military measures could be one option if the threat from the North gets too high.

He also ruled out the possibility of any immediate negotiations. He noted that conditions are “not ripe” for any talks with the North, while calling on China to do more to induce a meaningful change in its behavior.

In Tokyo, he emphasized the need for a “new approach” after the failure of the past two decades of talks and aid to the North on hopes that it will take the path to denuclearization.

He didn’t provide details but provided a glimpse into what appears to be the Trump administration’s new policy toward the recalcitrant North, experts said.

Wang, meanwhile, hinted that China doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the U.S. on how to deal with the North. He said that diplomacy should be pursued and called for the resumption of the long-suspended six-party denuclearization talks.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Strongly Criticizes Chinese THAAD Retaliation Against South Korea

Thehe retaliation by China against the ROK is extremely petty and not something an aspiring super-power should be doing:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, talks with USFK Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks in the truce village of Panmunjom on Friday while a North Korean soldier outside the building takes photos of them through a window. Tillerson began his two-day trip to South Korea on Friday, flying from Japan. [YONHAP]

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that China’s economic retaliation against South Korea for its decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) U.S. antimissile system was “inappropriate and troubling,” and that Washington asks Beijing to “refrain from such action.”Although the U.S. “acknowledges” China’s opposition, Tillerson urged China to “address the threat that makes Thaad necessary.”

The statement was Tillerson’s first time personally addressing the issue in public. It was made during a 20-minute joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se in central Seoul, ahead of his closed-door meeting with Yun.

Tillerson touched down at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, 70 miles south of the capital, Friday morning for his second of three-leg trip in Asia. He had flown in from Tokyo, where he had talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, among others.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Tillerson to Visit South Korea Next Week

I am sure the US Secretary of State will have plenty to talk about with his ROK counterparts next week considering all the domestic political and security issues between the two countries:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to visit South Korea later this week for meetings with senior government officials to discuss issues of mutual concern including the growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, officials said Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will stay in South Korea for two days from March 17 during which he will meet with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and other senior government officials.

Tillerson’s talks with Yun will be held on the first day of his stay in Seoul. They are expected to discuss mostly the North’s nuclear threat and cooperation in applying more pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang, according to the officials.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

Did Rex Tillerson Call for A Blockade of Chinese Islets in the South China Sea?

It seems the domestic political situation in China would force them to take action against any blockade of their artificial islands in the South China Sea.  China’s advanced ballistic missile capability is how they would likely respond.  Before any blockade is called for I hope people fully understand the risks:

Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon chief, didn’t get where he is by being nice to China. When Beijing tried to force his company to abandon a gas exploration project in the waters off Vietnam in 2008, ExxonMobil showed it the finger. BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and several others caved to Chinese pressure. ExxonMobil is still there, drilling on a Vietnamese license in waters also claimed by China.

Is Tillerson about to do the same on behalf of the United States? On Wednesday, the secretary of state-designate seemed ready to give China the finger again. He called on the incoming Trump administration to deny China access to the seven artificial island bases it has built in the southern part of the South China Sea.

In response to a question about whether he would support a more aggressive posture in the South China Sea, he told his Senate confirmation hearing, “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” The jaws of the Asia policy-watching community hit the floor.  [Foreign Policy]

You can read the rest at the link, but the author thinks Tillerson may have misspoke and meant blockading any action by the Chinese to build a base on the Scarborough Shoal which would be less dangerous, but still quite a risky strategy to implement if China is committed to forcing the issue.  It seems it would be a tough sell to the American people to risk war with China over the Scarborough Shoal.

The other wild card in all of this is what if President Duerte in the Philippines cuts a deal with China to let them build on the shoal which is claimed by the Philippines?