There are high expectations that Prime Minister Junichiro Kozumi’s Sept. 18 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will produce a breakthrough regarding the normalization of Japanese-North Korean relations. In addition to achieving this breakthrough in a manner that the Japanese people and other concerned parties can support, one hopes that Koizumi can also act as a peacemaker and make a substantive contribution to security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
Quite understandably, finding a solution to the alleged abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea will be a top priority for Koizumi. As the prime minister once said, normalization cannot take place without first resolving this issue. Given the Japanese public’s intense concern with the alleged abductions, Koizumi is willingly risking his political life by proceeding with the summit despite the enormous uncertainty it holds. In this respect, his courage and decisiveness should be commended.
No less important, however, is the prime minister’s leadership role in facilitating the fragile peace process now emerging between North and South Korea and the ongoing efforts by the United States and other concerned parties to ensure North Korea does not engage in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Any “package deal” with North Korea must be made in ways consistent with the strategic goals of accomplishing deterrence, nonproliferation and stability on the Peninsula as well as in Northeast Asia. For this purpose the U.S., Japan and South Korea have coordinated their respective policies through a trilateral consultation process. It should be recalled that the success of these endeavors led to the “Perry Process” in 1999-2000, even though the Bush administration chose not to continue it.
At the same time Japan made the surprise Aug. 30 announcement regarding the Koizumi trip, North and South Korea agreed to begin work Sept. 18 on the reconnection of the Gyungui Railway (Seoul to Shinuiju) across the demilitarized zone, with construction to be completed by the end of the year. If this agreement is fully implemented, it will rescue the Korean peace process, which appeared to be falling apart following the June 29 naval skirmish between the North and South.
To sustain the peace process, however, North Korea must make a credible commitment to addressing U.S. concerns regarding proliferation.
As a country that witnessed the flight of a North Korean Taepodong missile over its territory on Aug. 31, 1998 and as a member of the Korean Energy Development Organization pledging $1 billion for building two light-water reactors, Japan has a special role to play in this matter. Therefore, it would be desirable if Koizumi could secure a pledge from Kim to allow an early International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of North Korea’s nuclear activities.
In all probability this would prompt a resumption of U.S.-North Korean dialogue, which has yet to recommence even though U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and North Korean Foreign Minister Baek Nam Sun agreed to do just that at the meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum held at the end of July.
It is interesting to note that according to some reports, working groups from Tokyo and Pyongyang recently met in Beijing and agreed to include the issue of exploring a six-country meeting of four powers (the U.S., Japan, China and Russia) and the two Koreas in the summit agenda. If Koizumi succeeds in persuading his North Korean interlocutors to accept this idea, it will become a major step in involving not only North Korea and Japan, but also China, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. in a multilateral forum that is essential to fostering a Northeast Asian security structure.
If Koizumi succeeds in at least initiating the start of the normalization and peace processes during his North Korean summit, that in itself will be no small feat. Should North Korea respond positively, however, Japan must be prepared to provide generous economic cooperation so that the North can proceed with its newly started economic reforms and successfully carry out the various infrastructure projects that it agreed to build jointly with Russia and South Korea. Once again, Japan’s official development assistance can make a significant contribution to actually promoting both national and human security.
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