South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said that the international community should not question Kim Jong Un’s motives, as it could hinder progress in bringing about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Song made the comments during a question and answer session after a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a security summit that draws government officials and academics from around the world.
Speaking alongside Song were Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan.
“Chairman Kim Jong Un is looking to make decisive actions,” Song said, according to a translation provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which hosts the event. “If we suspect his motives, than any kind of developments to achieve that will be hindered by these suspicions. So as we try to take this path forward, than we must be helping each other.”
At times, Onodera and Song appeared to enter into something of a good cop-bad cop routine, though likely unintentionally, with the South Korean providing a more optimistic counterpoint to the skepticism of his Japanese counterpart.
“At the end of dark days of confrontation and tensions last year, we heard a message of peace and harmony at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics,” Song said, adding that diplomatic efforts are “changing the course of history.”
Onodera noted that while recent developments with North Korea have been positive, expectations needed to be grounded in reality and that peace can only be secured through concrete action.
“We have seen history repeat where North Korea would declare to denuclearize, by portraying itself as a consolatory and forthcoming, only to turn around and avoid all international efforts towards peace,” said Onodera.
“In light of how North Korea has behaved in the past, I believe it is important not to reward North Korea solely for agreeing to have a dialogue,” he continued.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to meet US President Donald Trump in Singapore for a historic summit on June 12.
Onodera called for the continuing of the US-led pressure campaign on North Korea, just hours after Trump said he would retire the strategy’s name – “maximum pressure” – during the ongoing dialogue with Pyongyang.
“I know that President Trump said that he would not lift sanctions until North Korea agrees to denuclearization and I understand that pressure will remain in place” Onodera said.
A major concern in Japan and among conservative South Koreans has that Trump could consider cutting a deal with Kim that would see Pyongyang agreeing to give up its long-range missiles, but allowing it to hold on to its short-range arsenal, leaving Japan and South Korea in the cross hairs.
Onodera said that North Korea’s disarmament must include more than nuclear weapons and missiles, but also any stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons it may have. He also mentioned the need achieve a breakthrough to North Korea’s abduction of multiple Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, long a sticking point and emotionally charged issue in Japan.
Kim Jong Il, the current North Korean leader’s father and predecessor, admitted that North Korea did in fact abduct Japanese citizens, but Tokyo has accused the government of not being truthful about the scale and scope of the issue.
Speaking in Singapore during a question and answer session earlier on Saturday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis also addressed the forthcoming Kim-Trump summit, describing it as “diplomatically-led” initiative.
Asked whether the status of US troops in the region would be on the negotiation table during the high-level meeting, Mattis ruled out the prospect, suggesting that it was too early in the process to begin discussing military deployments.
“If the diplomats can do their job and reduce the threat then of course they can come up subsequently,” said Mattis. “(But it’s) not on the table, June 12 … nor should it be.”
CNN’s Jo Shelley contributed reporting