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

Prime Minister Koizumi's North Korea Visit: Avoiding "a Second Iraq" on the Peninsula
OKONOGI Masao / Professor at Keio University

October 1, 2002
For Japan, normalization of relations with North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) had long been a 'historic agenda' equivalent to the Northern Territories issue. If peace comes to the Korean Peninsula, further more, one of the two major conflicts in East Asia – the other being the Taiwan Strait issue - would have been resolved.

However, aside from this sense of historic mission, the Japanese government had been persistently troubled by two 'nightmares.' The first was concern that Japan will be 'passed over' by the United States and South Korea. This nightmare came close to becoming reality two years ago, when South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean general secretary Kim Jong Il met in June, followed by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to Pyongyang in October.

As if taking advantage of such concern, North Korea unilaterally cut off negotiations with Japan. Had U.S. President Bill Clinton paid a visit to Pyongyang in December, Japan -feeling left out in the cold - may have rushed to normalize relations with North Korea by shelving the abduction issue. That would have caused a major rift in Japanese public opinion.

The second nightmare was fear that the North Korean situation would escalate into a military crisis. In March 1993, when North Korea declared its withdrawal from the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), or when in the following summer the U.S. government became strongly suspicious of an underground facility in Kumchang-ni and adamantly demanded inspections, the Japanese government was caught unprepared against a military crisis. These experiences consequently led to the creation of the Regional Crisis Law.

And it was this second nightmare that had loomed over the Japanese government ahead of the historic summit meeting between Japan and North Korea. Should an attack on Iraq take place before the resumption of U.S.-North Korean dialogue, the logic of military sanctions was likely to be applied to North Korea - considered to be a member of the "axis of evil" - as well. And North Korea becoming a ‘second Iraq’ would necessitate the invocation of the Regional Crisis Law.

The latest move by general secretary Kim Jong Il, of inviting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and encouraging the resumption of negotiations, was based on the same perspective. To avoid a military crisis and to reopen dialogue with the United States, Kim Jong-Il needed the help of Koizumi, an ally of U.S. President George Bush. His political decision to admit to the abductions and offer his apology was the 'expensive price' he paid in exchange.

However, the complete resolution of the abduction issue is not the only demand being made of Kim Jong-Il. During the course of the resumed U.S.-North Korean talks, he will be faced with important decisions on suspending the development, deployment and export of long-range missiles and cooperating with nuclear inspections by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). Without these concessions, relations with Japan will not be normalized, nor a military crisis avoided.

Then again, if talks with Japan - which are to resume next month - proceed smoothly, Japan will begin considering concrete plans for extending economic assistance. Such support would be crucial for North Korea, which has only recently launched its "economic reforms," such as the partial abolition of its rationing system, revision of its salary and price structure, establishing a realistic foreign exchange mechanism and improvement of its self-sustenance capability.

Faced with shocking news of the deaths of eight of the abductees, Japanese public opinion has exploded in outrage along with the victims' families. It would be difficult to appease such emotions. North Korean negotiation tactics - of inviting Prime Minister Koizumi to Pyongyang while withholding this serious information in the hope of resolving the abduction issue once and for all at the summit meeting - were undeniably repugnant.

Then again, we would be hard-pressed to come up with an answer to the question posed by Prime Minister Koizumi: "What would have happened had I left the negotiating table in disgust?" While he probably meant to say that it would have become impossible to discover the truth about the abductions, the issue is far more complex.

Had Prime Minister Koizumi left the table, the Bush administration would have refused to resume talks with North Korea and instead resort to applying pressure on the country through various means. Japan may have been left with no choice but to stand next to the United States on the very frontline against North Korea.

The writer is Professor at Keio University teaching East Asian Affairs. He contributed this comment to the Yomiuri Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小泉首相の訪朝: 北朝鮮の「第2のイラク化」回避
小此木 政夫 / 慶應義塾大学教授

2002年 10月 1日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Prime Minister Koizumi's North Korea Visit: Avoiding "a Second Iraq" on the Peninsula