Pundit terms Japan’s Asia strategy lacking

JIJI

Japan needs to develop comprehensive strategies in dealing with North Korea, Hitoshi Tanaka, former deputy foreign minister for political affairs, said in a recent interview.

Tanaka, now head of the Institute for International Strategy of the Japan Research Institute, said international relations don’t move independently.

“Japan should ask why South Korean President Lee Myung Bak visited the disputed Sea of Japan islands (on Aug. 10). Lee may have wanted to raise his domestic support rating, but he also must consider relations with North Korea,” said Tanaka, who led negotiations with Pyongyang under the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Since Lee’s landing on one of the South Korean-controlled islets, called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, tensions have intensified between the two nations.

Offering advice to the government before it holds its first bilateral talks with North Korea in four years in Beijing next Wednesday, Tanaka pointed out that the North holds great significance in the context of Japan-South Korea relations.

“Currently, the North-South relations are very severe. While ignoring South Korea, North Korea hopes to hold talks with the United States and Japan,” Tanaka said.

Against this background, “Japan should have basic strategies and consider all the facts in a comprehensive manner,” he stressed.

Major problems, including North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, its nuclear threat, the Japan-South Korea island dispute and the Japan-China row over the Senkaku Islands “will not progress independently,” Tanaka said. “Things are not so simple.”

Asked if it is a good idea for Tokyo to hold talks with Pyongyang at a time of deteriorating ties with Seoul, Tanaka said the timing of the meeting isn’t a problem. But there is one principle that Japan must retain.

“Japan should never form a relationship with North Korea that in any way harms South Korea,” he said.