JFIR Commentary

July 10, 2018



Japanese Diplomacy in post US-North Korea Summit

By NAGASHIMA Akihisa

The United States-North Korea Summit in Singapore on June 12th, was indeed historic, though disappointment is spread among those who expected something actually fruitful. Especially it has been very much criticized by the experts. This is based on the fact that despite the big talk of President Trump before the Summit that he would convince North Korea of complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization (CVID), the joint statement only mentioned “complete denuclearization” (lacking ‘verifiable’ and ‘irreversible’!), and neither had it said the definition of denuclearization, its deadline, nor the framework of inspection. It seemed nothing but what Kim Jong-un wanted to prolong the denuclearization process as much as possible. Additionally, it was said that promising to cancel the joint military exercise with South Korea –without consultation with the ally-, which North Korea had requested for long time, was thoughtless.

As I have observed the Korean Peninsula issues since 1997 as myself having been working for a think-tank in the US then, President Trump’s way of dealing was hasty due to his ambition (motivated by the midterm election in November?), I have been worried if he could be entrapped by North Korea or its backing, China. As a matter of fact, Western experts are saying that “the real winner of the Summit was China.” China has consistently insisted the need for a peaceful solution for the Korean Peninsula. To make it realized, North Korea needs to suspend its nuclear and missile tests, and US-South Korea’s joint military exercise –as it is symbolized as unfriendly anti-North Korea policy- needs to be suspended (“Double Freeze”), China has called to the respective sides. And that’s exactly how the Summit in Singapore turned out.

Moreover, according to the joint statement, both leaders agreed on “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The denuclearization of the entire “Korean Peninsula” has a deeper meaning than what the international community expects from the denuclearization of North Korea. It actually suggests to remove the US’ “nuclear umbrella” provided to South Korea, as there are no nuclear arms kept in the South half of the Peninsula –not in South Korea, nor by US military in the country- anymore. The only reason the US is providing the nuclear umbrella to South Korea is the US-South Korea alliance, with 30,000 members of US Forces Korea (USFK) stationed. China’s principle strategy has been consistent since the beginning of Korean War, to remove US’ influence from the Korean Peninsula –in another words, establishing its own control over the Peninsula. The direction Mr. Trump has presented this time, surprisingly matches with such China’s aim.

If that’s the case, Japan is in a trouble. Japan’s principle strategy has also been consistent since the end of World War II, to maintain and strengthen the US’ security commitment to Korea and Japan. President Trump’s negotiation attitude, not only suspending the US-Korea joint military exercise, but also referring to withdrawing of USFK (in the future), is not acceptable. The biggest issue for Japan, abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, was not mentioned in the joint statement, in spite of President’s claim that he had repeatedly referred to it during the Summit. Not only that, the cost related to denuclearization would be covered by Japan, Korea, and China, the President said. Additional apprehension is the possibility of dissolving of the “maximum pressure” that once it forced North Korea to sit on the negotiation table, by a US-North Korea handshake at the Summit. It is said that the China-North Korea trade has already been increased, and South Korea and Russia are positive on economic assistance for North Korea.

Nevertheless, “Alea iacta est.” Clearly President Trump’s way is extraordinary. The details and agenda are usually consulted through the diplomatic negotiations before the Summit meeting. The “Trump style” is maybe the complete opposite of that. Leaders shake hands, and the rest is given to the working level officials. Though the path is unclear, it is clear that the denuclearization process is initiated. Better yet, the ball is in North Korean side. The focal point is now whether North Korea moves on to the denuclearization process ‘promptly.’ Mr. Trump has been criticized by the experts that he made too much concessions to North Korea, but US-Korea joint military exercise can be restarted anytime depending on how North Korea behaves, and the US even can use the betrayal by North Korea of its “consciousness” if happened as an excuse to switch to the military action against them, that perhaps for him, it is not a concession.

Now, what Japan should do diplomatically from here? I believe mid- and long-term perspective is important. We ought to welcome the break out of the war has been avoided for a while, but the denuclearization process will be a long and difficult one. Meanwhile, Japan should seek an opportunity seriously for holding the Japan-North Korea Summit to solve the abduction issue, the biggest problem pending for Japan. To do so, we have to ask them the honest report regarding the abductees based on the Stockholm Agreement. It would not be difficult for one of the strictest police state such as North Korea, in which the authority monitors everyone –whether its own nationals or foreigners- to make a report on inquiries on the abductees. Upon their response, I think we could cover the international share of the denuclearization burden sincerely.

Moreover, we should not forget that our main security concern in mid- and long-term period is China. China has increased their military spending for 51 times bigger in last 30 years, their modernized nuclear missiles’ range covers our country, and acting assertively in East and South China Sea, their threat is much bigger and complex than that of North Korea. To stabilize the relations with such a country, deepening of the economic ties as well as the ‘balance of power’ are required. Hence the point is, how to maintain and strengthen the alliance with the US, led by President Trump, a man with uncommon diplomacy. Even if the threat of North Korea’s nuclear missiles was decreased, we must proceed steadily of installing the aegis shore, a land-based defense system that is a key to deterring missiles, as there still will be a threat of ballistic/cruise missiles remain. At the same time, we must pay our effort to construct the self-sustaining responsive capacities of an effective defense and intelligence gathering, so that we can “defend our nation by ourselves.”

In any case, simply improving the bilateral relations between North Korea and South Korea, US, or Japan, will not suffice to bring peace and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula. Ceaseless efforts to stabilize the multilayered security environment among Japan, US, China, Korea, and Russia, are required. For that I will remain to propose and proceed a strategic Japanese diplomacy, together with the Members of the Houses, regardless of ruling or opposition.

(This is an English translation of an article written by NAGASHIMA Akihisa, Member of House of Representatives / former State Minister of Defense, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on June 21, 2018.)