National / Politics

South Korean and Japanese defense chiefs divided over future of North’s shorter-range ballistic missiles

Reuters, Staff Report, JIJI

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Saturday that it is important not to reward North Korea for only agreeing to dialogue and that it must take concrete action to dismantle all of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs — including shorter-range weapons that threaten Japan.

His South Korean counterpart urged support for dialogue to help North Korea join the international community, saying its leader, Kim Jong Un, must be given the benefit of the doubt.

The apparent divergence of views between the U.S. allies comes ahead of the denuclearization summit planned between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore.

Speaking at the Shangri-la Dialogue security forum in Singapore, Onodera said North Korea had entered agreements to end its nuclear program in the past, only to conduct more activities to further advance its weapons.

“In light of how North Korea behaved in the past, it is important not to reward it for agreeing to have dialogue,” Onodera said.

The only way to bring peace is to ensure North Korea takes concrete action to end all nuclear programs and the development of ballistic missiles “of all flight ranges,” he said.

Tokyo has repeatedly said that in addition to its long-range missiles, the North’s large arsenal of shorter-range weapons capable of striking Japan must also be eliminated.

The government of liberal President Moon Jae-in has made it a top priority to engage the North in dialogue to resolve decades-old animosity and bring lasting peace, publicly pledging to never pursue the collapse of its neighbor.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said he recognizes there is debate about how much nuclear disarmament Kim should be made to agree to, but feels that if the focus is on disagreement and not on the way forward, dialogue will never make any progress.

Asked if this means that North Korea retaining shorter-range ballistic missiles is acceptable, Song dodged the question, but said such threats will disappear if the North joins the international community.

“As North Korea forms diplomatic ties with the free world, such threats will dissipate over time,” he said.

Still, Song did voice support for the “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement” of the North’s nuclear arsenal.

“But there must be CVID, and it must be enforced, and I believe Kim Jong Un will embrace it,” Song told the forum.

“If you continue to doubt Kim Jong Un’s motives, that will only come as an obstacle to dialogue and progress.”

But despite the gap between the two defense chiefs, Onodera noted that Japan would spare no effort in providing support in certain fields if North Korea takes concrete actions toward denuclearization. This was likely an allusion to sending Self-Defense Forces personnel to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to take part in possible verification procedures in the event of any deal by the North to give up its arsenal.