The politics of South and North Korea have been greatly influenced by U.S. policy. What happens within South Korean politics is also important to policymakers in the United States. The start of the 21st century coincides with the inauguration of U.S. President George W. Bush. Among South and North Korean leaders, the birth of the Bush administration will not be widely welcomed. South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il may suffer a bit as a result of the new administration.

There are more Korean experts among senior officials in the State Department and the National Security Council in Bush’s administration than in Clinton’s administration. The Clinton administration made ideal diplomacy the focus of its Korea policy, whereas the Bush administration is expected to take a more realistic policy line. This is likely to translate into no concessions regarding security issues, such as mass destructive weapons. On the other hand, the Bush administration is likely to be more cooperative in the area of food aid and business and cultural exchange with North Korea.

The newly appointed national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice of Stanford University, wrote an article in last year’s Foreign Affairs, clearly indicating the need for re-examination of U.S. policy toward North Korea. Her article also criticized Clinton’s diplomacy toward North Korea. I perused Professor Rice’s article, for I took a course from her some years ago when I was a research fellow at Stanford. Rice’s basic foreign policy premise is to take a nonconcessionary stance on issues related to military technology or security while launching dialogue on possible food assistance for North Korea or cultural exchange. Rice’s suggestions are similar to the basis of President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy.

No senior official or statesman in the Kim Dae Jung administration has a reliable personal relationship with members of Bush’s senior staff. Republican circles were quite critical of President Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine Policy. For the Republicans, South Korea gave in too much to the North. Many Korea specialists in the Republican Party were highly skeptical of Kim Dae Jung’s suggestive agenda for North Korea. One reason was his idea of “changing the U.S. army in Korea to a form of the U.N. peacekeeping force.” Another was that his agenda was presented to North Korea without prior consultation with the U.S.

Changing the status of U.S. troops in South Korea to U.N. peacekeeping forces would require the U.S. to become a neutral nation. This would also mean dissolution of the U.S.-South Korea alliance relationship. Some members of the Bush administration are concerned that President Kim Dae Jung may do just that. Also, since the summit meeting between South and North Korea, there has been continuous rise in anti-American sentiment in South Korea, with the public calling for withdrawal of U.S. military troops.

If chemistry sours between the Bush and Kim Dae Jung administrations, the South Korean government is still likely to be swayed by Bush’s policy. The U.S. government’s policy direction has a great influence on South Korean domestic politics. The South Korean media would likely become quite critical of Kim. Also, opposition party criticism toward Kim would probably confuse the public and create an unstable situation in South Korean society. Kim Dae Jung’s support rate has already declined, and the leadership seems to have weakened. The South Korean economy seems to be declining at the same time.

North Korea specialists in the U.S. speculate that North Korea is targeting withdrawal of U.S. military troops from South Korea. The current situation in South Korea gives a general impression that the withdrawal is possible. Korea experts in Washington, Moscow and Beijing have surmised that last year’s visit by Kim Jung-Il to China and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to North Korea are linked to the South and North Korean summit meeting. They also concluded that the series of visits which led to the summit would eventually result in inviting President Bill Clinton to visit North Korea and in making Japan-North Korea normalization feasible.

President Kim Dae Jung supported General Secretary Kim Jong Il’s diplomacy, which focused on the invitation to President Clinton. Japan was in an uncomfortable position concerning North Korea’s idea of inviting Clinton. Even if the issue of Japan’s unsolved abduction case were to be brought up at the negotiating table, Japan felt the situation to be too immature and dangerous for itself to be pressured into leading normalization with North Korea.

The start of the Bush administration is likely to change the diplomatic climate between Japan and North Korea since the Bush administration’s Asia policy will place priority on the Japan-U.S. relationship. However, there is a requirement in this context. Japan has to make an effort to create a more positive relationship with the U.S., and for this purpose, efforts by the Japanese government and politicians will be necessary.

Japan’s Korea policy should cooperate with the Bush administration and should strengthen the alliance with the U.S. Japan should express its willingness to cooperate with South Korea as well to help its declining economic condition. Japan would gain credibility in Korea when the spirit of cooperation is shared. Japan can also play a bridging role between the Bush administration and President Kim Dae Jung.

Japanese politicians should place priority on the idea of developing tripartite cooperation. For Japanese politicians to effectively carry out their foreign-policy-related decisions, they should abandon their “kokkai taisaku” diplomacy toward Pyongyang, and instead adopt a no-touch policy regarding Japanese economic cooperation projects toward North Korea.

What is kokkai taisaku? It literally means Diet policy. It is one of the peculiar characteristics of inner Diet politics, used as a negotiating tactic to come to a certain compromise promising political funds or political profits. It is a kind of behind-the-scenes, closed-door negotiations between ruling and opposition parties. Japanese politicians often misunderstand diplomacy as a form of kokkai taisaku.

Mr. Shin Kanemaru’s failed visit to North Korea in 1990 is an example. He promised postwar compensation without consulting with the Japanese government. The U.S. expressed its strong distrust of Kanemaru, for the Japanese politician pursued only his interest in normalization of ties and failed to discuss more pressing issues such as regulation of North Korea’s nuclear development. Kanemaru held a powerful position in the Liberal Democratic Party at that time.

Another example of kokkai taisaku diplomacy is former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s visit to North Korea at the end of 1999. It was reported that he reached an accord to resume normalization talks between the two countries as soon as possible. However, even before Murayama’s visit to Pyongyang, a senior official of the Japanese government had already reached an agreement with the North Korean government to resume dialogue by the end of 1999. Diplomats of both countries had agreed to cooperate, to avoid kokkai taisaku diplomacy. No matter, Murayama forged ahead, pretending that Japanese politicians were the ones who paved the way for the resumption of Japan-North Korea normalization talks.

Neither Kanemaru nor Murayama understood an important meaning of bipartisanship practiced in U.S. foreign policy, which is respected by the U.S. Congress. Both men lacked understanding of the internal dynamics of North Korea. In the Cold War era, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had relatively weak influence over diplomacy related to Japan. Instead, the Unification Front of Labor Party made up the core circle, which prioritized operational tactics vis-a-vis Japanese politicians in the Japan-North Korea relationship. Operational tactics preceded diplomacy. Japanese Diet members responded to North Korea’s operational tactics with kokkai taisaku.

Kokkai taisaku has a culturally embedded meaning implying a behind-the-scenes negotiating style. It is considered to be a widely practiced method of reaching a compromise. Representatives from the leading and opposition parties meet in person and come to negotiable terms. The provenance of the phrase “kokkai taisaku” comes from the climate of the Diet session, which lasts only 150 days. Within the given period, laws have to be passed. However, the 150-day session usually does not offer enough time for laws to be passed.

Members of the Diet tend to take kokkai taisaku and diplomacy as similar procedures. In fact, they are different entities.

The dynamics of kokkai taisaku is based on a personal motivation to implement pork barrel politics. The purpose of diplomacy is to pursue the national interest. Diplomacy precludes any personal political ambition or profit. Japanese politicians should learn more from the real meaning of diplomacy and diplomatic thoughts.

Japan-U.S.-South Korea policy cooperation will be a key element in resolving the Korea problem. Political, economic and security issues must all be worked out within an institutionalized alliance relationship. In addition, a new structure should be created for four-party talks that include North Korea. These talks should eventually be expanded to six-party talks in which agenda related to providing support for reconstruction of North Korea’s agriculture and industrial structure should be included.

In the 21st century, the Korean peninsula will certainly unify. Cooperation among the U.S., Japan and South Korea should become the center, and three nations should help North Korea establish liberal democracy, open its market and create an environment that can lead the two Koreas to unification based on liberal democratic ideals.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.