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Tillerson Talks Tough On North Korea During Asia Trip


And Secretary of State Tillerson is in China today, the final stop of a three-nation trip through through East Asia. At the top of his agenda is North Korea's nuclear threat. And Mr. Tillerson signaled the Trump administration has a tougher stance.


REX TILLERSON: Let me be very clear. The policy of strategic patience has ended.

SIMON: China's foreign minister also weighed in after he met with Mr. Tillerson and urged the United States to be coolheaded when it comes to North Korea. As NPR's Elise Hu reports from Seoul, taking a harder line will test America's relationships in the region.


ELISE HU, BYLINE: Stepping before cameras Friday, America's top diplomat Rex Tillerson said all options are on the table in trying to curb Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile development. Potential military strikes have been considered by previous administrations. But Tillerson went further than others in what he was willing to say out loud.

JAMES KIM: It was never sort of out in the open and in your face as the current administration has made it.

HU: Researcher James Kim of Seoul-based think tank Asan Institute says there's a reason why military options are considered a last resort.

KIM: That's largely because of the short tripwire that will lead to a conflict that results in massive casualties on both sides.

HU: If North Korea retaliates against a potential U.S. strike, Seoul's population of 20 million is within striking range of North Korean artillery. Tillerson signaled he realizes the consequences.


TILLERSON: Certainly we do not want to - for things to get to a military conflict. But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens South Korean forces or our own forces, then that will be met with an appropriate response.

HU: What South Korea wants depends on whom you ask. South Korea is led by a placeholder government until May 9, when a new administration will be voted in.

ADAM CATHCART: There is a concern that if the Americans push too hard on the North Korea issue that what you'll get is a pushback not from the North Koreans.

HU: That's Adam Cathcart, a researcher in Sino-Korean relations at the University of Leeds. Polls indicate progressives are likely to take power in South Korea. And they don't favor escalating things militarily.

CATHCART: What you may get is a pushback in the South Korean elections basically saying, OK, you know, the Americans are obviously moving towards irrationality with the North Korean threat. And we are going to counterbalance that with more engagement, more money.

HU: Different viewpoints between longtime American allies and some disagreements with China combine for one of the most delicate and potentially dangerous diplomatic situations in the world. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIKLAS AMAN'S "CONTINUING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elise Hu
Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.