Theresa May has called on China to “do everything it can” to put more pressure on North Korea to stop “illegal” and “outrageous” missile tests.
The Prime Minister has landed in Japan for an official visit, one day after Pyongyang filed a missile over the north of the country.
Speaking to journalists on the flight, Mrs May said: “The actions of North Korea, of DPRK, are illegal. They are significant actions of provocation.
“I think it’s outrageous. That’s why we will be working with our international partners, as we have done previously but we will be doubling our efforts with our international partners to put pressure on North Korea to stop these illegal activities.
Mrs May, who says she spoke to President Xi about this issue at the G20 summit in Hamburg, added: “China has a key role to play here in terms of the pressure they can bring on North Korea.”
She believes that Chinese pressure would be “the best way” of influencing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. She added: “We would encourage China to do everything it can.”
China’s foreign minister says Beijing is working with other members of the UN Security Council on a response to the latest missile launch but did not specify whether a fresh set of sanctions is looming.
Officials in China, Pyongyang’s only major ally, have also urged all sides “to stick to peaceful and diplomatic means to resolve this issue”.
The Prime Minister was asked three times whether the UK would rule out military action or the use cyber warfare capabilities against North Korea – and three times Mrs May dodged the question, insisting that she would continue to work with international partners.
Security and defence was always due to be high on the agenda during the Mrs May’s three-day trip to Japan, but recent events have added urgency to the talks.
The Government says the UK is seeking to “cement its position as Japan’s strongest security partner in Europe.”
Mrs May said: “As our closest security partner in Asia, we will also discuss how we can work much more closely together on cybersecurity, counter-terrorism and defence – more important than ever in this uncertain world.”
The visit will include an audience with the Emperor of Japan, a banquet with business leaders, a ride on the bullet train between Kyoto and Tokyo, as well as a bilateral summit and private dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The post-Brexit trading relationship between the UK and Japan will also be a central aspect of the visit, with Mrs May looking for a bilateral free trade deal based on the one currently being negotiated between Japan and the EU.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is accompanying Mrs May along with 15 business leaders hoping to forge closer ties with their Japanese counterparts.
It is notable that the relatively small delegation only includes one bank, Barclays Capital, and one car manufacturer, Aston Martin.
Japanese officials have signalled that there will be little progress on post-Brexit trade talks but rather more questions over Theresa May’s stance on Brexit.
Yoshiji Nogami, president of Japan Institute of International affairs told the Financial Times: “We can’t negotiate until Britain is out of the EU. I think what Mr Abe wants to hear from the Prime Minister is where she hopes to land on Brexit.”
Last year, the Japanese government released a 15-page document calling for assurances over trade tariffs for its UK-based firms that currently trade within the EU. It also asked that the UK maintain free movement of workers within the EU and for a commitment to secure the financial services passport to operate in the EU.
More than 1,000 Japanese companies currently operate in the UK, employing 140,000 people. Several Japanese financial institutions have decided to set up hubs in Frankfurt and Amsterdam to protect themselves from Brexit.
Barry Gardiner, shadow secretary of state for international trade, said: “Prime Minister Abe has been clear that any future trade agreement with Japan will only be possible once the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU has itself been clarified.
“Whilst Theresa May is desperately trying to spin this visit as scoping out a future bilateral trade and investment agreement; the reality is that the Government is spooked by the fact that Japanese banks like Nomura have already announced their intention to relocate their European HQ to Frankfurt.”
“Prime Minister Abe is only saying the same as senior US negotiators: get your house in order with the EU. Until you do, we cannot know what sort of a deal we need with the UK.”