Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Our Only Option – Concluding a "Big Deal" with General Secretary Kim While in Power
HIRAI Hisashi / Journalist

September 9, 2009
North Korea has reversed course from its hard-line approach of provoking the international community with nuclear tests and missile launches to a strategy calling for a dialogue with the United States and South Korea.

It began with a drive towards the United States. On August 4, General Secretary Kim Jong-Il met with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who had paid a visit seeking the release of two U.S. reporters detained by North Korea. While details have not been disclosed, there is a strong possibility that General Secretary Kim made a proposal of sorts to President Barack Obama through Clinton.

The next target was the South Korean public. General Secretary Kim met with Hyundai Group Chairman Hyon・Jongun, , who had also traveled to North Korea. Talking as much time as he wanted before making his appearance, General Secretary Kim finally met Chairman Hyon and demonstrated flexibility by granting him his wishes. Prior to this meeting, North Korea released Hyundai Group employees it had been detaining, and afterwards announced a five-point agreement including the resumption of Mount Kumgang tourism and reunion of separated families.

It was at this point in time that on August 18, former South Korean President Kim Daejung passed away. General Secretary Kim immediately dispatched a delegation to the funeral, which included Secretary Kim・Ginam and United Front Department Director Kim・Yanhggon of the Workers Party of North Korea. The delegation met with South Korea's President Lee Myunbak on August 23 and delivered a verbal message of condolences from General Secretary Kim. The message is said to have been about progress in South-North cooperation. And from this point on, North Korea suspended its campaign of branding President Lee a "traitor."

Why has North Korea suddenly changed course from a hard-line approach to a dialogue strategy?

The first reason lies in the recovery of General Secretary Kim's health. While we do not know whether the recovery is only temporary or otherwise, the current dialogue strategy is unmistakably being led by the recovered leader.

In a dictatorship such as North Korea, when the top man falls ill and political decision-making is delegated to his aides, they often adopt a hard-line approach in part to protect themselves. Orchestrating a flexible approach requires powerful leadership that allows for compromise. And in today's North Korea, General Secretary Kim is the only person who can do this.

The second reason is that having accomplished a certain level of military success with the nuclear tests and missile launches, the path towards succession by third son Kim Jong-un can now be reasonably considered a fait accompli, and this in turn required a breakthrough in North Korea's foreign affairs.

The third reason is North Korea's need to show economic results that will directly benefit its people so that the country can "fling open the gate to a thriving nation" in 2012, the year commemorating the 100th birthday of General Secretary Kim Il-sung. While North Korea is currently engaged in a "150-day struggle" through mass participation, it will need cash income from South Korea and economic aid from China to improve the lives of its people. To pave the way towards such an environment, North Korea had no choice but to move towards a dialogue.

Sanctions by the U.N. Security Council will be effective to a certain extent against arms exports and illegal transfer of funds. However, China is the only country that can affect North Korea through general commerce. At present, North Korea can only be moved through dialogue with the United States and covert pressure from China.

The United States remains circumspect, and steadfastly maintains its position of offering the possibility of a dialogue only within the framework of the six-party talks if North Korea moves towards disposing its nuclear weapons. South Korea also remains committed to its stance of seeking denuclearization, though it is expected to accept the resumption of Mount Kumgang tourism and reunion of separated families.

It is easy to criticize the dictatorship under General Secretary Kim. However, once he disappears as a leader, North Korea will revert to a hard-line approach to safeguard its government. General Secretary Kim is our only counterpart in negotiating a comprehensive resolution for the missile control and abduction issues. The question does not concern the merits or demerits of the man himself. Without General Secretary Kim, North Korea will have no leader who can carry off a considerable deal with the international community.

The international community must become keenly aware of North Korea's need to reconstruct its economy by 2012, and must secure a "big deal" that leads to a comprehensive resolution of the nuclear arms, missiles and abductions issues, normalization of relations with Japan and the United States, and the establishment of a framework for peace on the Korean Peninsula, while General Secretary Kim is still in power.

To do so, the United States must open talks with North Korea. The idea of three-party talks involving the United States, China and North Korea may also surface as a step towards resumption of the six-party talks.

Unfortunately, Japan has no part to play in the current situation. The key lies in whether the new administration formed by the Democratic Party following the general elections will be able to separate the abduction issue from the nuclear weapons and missile issue. Japan will have little to contribute in terms of diplomacy and security as long as it maintains the stance of subjugating its entire North Korean policy to the abduction issue. For the sake of progress in this area alone, Japan must meet head-on with North Korea to discuss the abduction issue.

The writer is Senior Editor of Kyodo News Agency.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

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2009年 9月 9日















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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Our Only Option – Concluding a "Big Deal" with General Secretary Kim While in Power