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

The Outlook for North Korea’s Denuclearization and Japan’s Lack of a Long-Term Strategy
ISHIGOOKA Ken / Journalist

September 14, 2018
Division and confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, which had marked the postwar era, took a dramatic turn this year that led to the first ever summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong-un. It was indeed a historic meeting, though the jury is still out concerning its content. In particular, there has been persistent criticism in Japan and the United States concerning the ambiguous and nebulous nature of their agreement on “denuclearization.”

“Nobody saw it coming” – the rapid rapprochement between the U.S. and North Korea was frequently described in these words. But earlier this year at a meeting with reporters, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin predicted just such a rapprochement. According to Putin, “Chairman Kim has clearly won the game. He is in possession of nuclear warheads and has also acquired missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. (Chairman Kim) has now shifted his attention to sorting out and defusing the situation.” Putin also said prolonged negotiations would be needed to settle the issue.

And at a time when the U.S. and North Korean leaders were still firing salvoes at each other, Russian experts generally shared the view that: one, U.S. and North Korean comments that they “won’t rule out nuclear war” was a bluff, and that neither side wanted a nuclear war; and two, North Korea will cling on to its nuclear weapons to the very end.

North Korea will agree to a complete denuclearization only when the country’s current regime and the wellbeing of the Kim family are guaranteed. Locked in a bitter quarrel, the two sides have been bickering at each other for nearly seventy years, and there was no way they would suddenly decide to trust each other.

It would be difficult to verify even a single small nuclear warhead, if it lies hidden in the underground tunnels that are said to span several tens of kilometers across North Korea. And it would be next to impossible to force North Korea to fully comply with the provisions of “irreversible denuclearization,” when in all likelihood it already owns nuclear weapons technology. North Korea will continue to retain the ability to produce nuclear weapons should the need arise.

In the end, complete denuclearization will never be possible unless the two sides develop a sense of trust that the agreement will be honored by either side. In reality, the U.S. and North Korea have only just begun to build such trust, and are second guessing each other. If that is so, some kind of assurance will be needed to sustain mutual trust, and the only option is to have a third party provide backing for the agreement. The primary candidates would be China and South Korea, which would bring together all four countries involved in the Korean War. And if that were not enough, Japan and Russia would be called to the scene, signifying the resurgence of the six-party talks.

Consequently, this could be upgraded to a security conference for Northeast Asia. And as we expand the scope of the talks to ensuring security for East Asia as a whole, it would lead to broader issues including what should be the future of the Korean Peninsula, whether North-South unification is necessary, and whether North Korea will open its doors and be accepted by the international community.

Finally, the major focal point will be the position adopted by China, which has shown remarkable economic growth, and whether all of East Asia will fall under the shadow of China’s sphere of influence. In other words, there is a fair chance that the issue of denuclearizing North Korea may provoke a power struggle between the U.S. and China. We should bear in mind that members of the six-party talks – with the exception of Japan – are constantly exploring ways to reshape the post-Cold War order on the Korean Peninsula.

President Putin has already proposed plans for a trans-Korean railway, a North-South gas pipeline and a wide-area power grid. The plans reflect Russia’s long-term strategy, aimed at checking Chinese domination of the Korean Peninsula.

What will Japan do? Caught up in its principles of seeking early denuclearization and resolving the abductee issue, Japan has been unable to take a long-term approach rooted in reality. “What is Japan’s ultimate goal?” – While this question is being asked in countries around the world, it appears as though Japanese society isn’t listening.

Ken Ishigooka is a journalist and former special editor of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

石郷岡 建 / ジャーナリスト

2018年 9月 14日










一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Outlook for North Korea’s Denuclearization and Japan’s Lack of a Long-Term Strategy