TOKYO -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived for his first official visit to Asia, touching down Thursday morning in Japan.
Breaking with decades of precedent, Tillerson traveled with just one reporter -- from a conservative website -- rather than the press corps that usually covers the nation’s top diplomat. He had only one news conference scheduled for the four-day trip, and that has come and gone already.
In it, Tillerson called for a new strategy to deal with North Korea and its rogue leader Kim Jong Un.
As CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz reports, Tillerson’s trip is a mission to find a solution to the region’s most pressing problem; Kim’s increasingly aggressive -- and increasingly capable -- military regime.
Just last week North Korea test-fired missiles that landed in the Sea of Japan, rattling a U.S. ally that still hosts more than 50,000 American troops.
“The diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years, to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization, have failed,” Tillerson said in Tokyo. “It is clear a different approach is required.”
When asked what that new approach might entail, he gave no specifics.
Any new strategy will depend upon China -- the only country with real leverage on Kim Jong Un. But how can Tillerson get Beijing on the same page as the U.S. to diffuse the threat?
“We do believe they have an important role to play. China is a major source of economic trade and activity with North Korea,” said the secretary, “so we look to China to fulfill its obligations and fully implement the sanctions called for in the U.N. resolutions.”
On Friday, Tillerson ventures to South Korea, which is in political turmoil after its president was impeached last week as the result of a corruption scandal.
There, the U.S. is currently deploying a controversial missile interception system known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), which could be halted by South Korea’s next leader.
China vehemently objects to the U.S. deployment of THAAD in South Korea over fears the U.S. military could use the powerful radar system that is part of it to peer into Chinese territory.
In spite of that and other differences between Washington and Beijing, cohesion between China, the U.S. and South Korea is an absolute must if the North Korean threat is to be dealt with effectively.
“North Korea and its people need not fear the U.S. or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea,” Tillerson said.
China has tried to broker a deal; calling on the North to halt its missile program in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea ending joint military exercises that are currently underway.
The U.S. and South Korea rejected the deal immediately. North Korea did not respond.
Now, China says it’s America’s turn to come up with an alternative suggestion. That will likely be discussed when Secretary Tillerson goes to Beijing on Saturday.