At their historic Pyongyang summit Sept. 17, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il opened a new chapter in the history of Northeast Asia by agreeing to resume bilateral talks on diplomatic normalization this month. The agreement was announced in the Pyongyang declaration the two leaders signed to ease tensions in the region, which had continued for more than 50 years after the end of World War II.
However, Japanese were outraged by revelations by North Korea that of a dozen Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the past, eight were dead. The normalization efforts face serious trouble even before they start.
Japan should demand a full account of the violations of its national sovereignty. North Korea should act in good faith in dealing with Japanese demands, observing the spirit of the Pyongyang Declaration.
There were other crucial issues, too. The most important achievement in Pyongyang as far as international politics was concerned was the fact that, to quote the Pyongyang declaration, “both sides confirmed they would cooperate in order to maintain and strengthen the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.” The international community has a large stake in regional security, the key element in the declaration.
Japan took the diplomatic initiative in creating a better environment for international security. The declaration is historically important as the first possible step toward accepting North Korea as a responsible member of the international community.
In talks with Koizumi, Kim apologized for international criminal conduct after admitting North Korean agents were involved in the abductions. Koizumi’s diplomatic achievements were obscured by revelations that many of the abductees had died.
In a Kyodo News poll taken immediately after the summit, 84 percent of the respondents said the abduction issue remained unsolved, and 49 percent said there should be no hurry to move forward with diplomatic normalization.
Koizumi’s public support rating jumped to 67 percent immediately after the summit. However, he could run into political problems, depending on how he handles the abduction issue. He told relatives of the victims that there would be no diplomatic normalization before the abduction issue was solved.
However, this newly opened chapter of history should not be closed again. The abduction issue will require patient negotiations as part of normalization talks. The Japanese government should appeal to the world concerning violations of national sovereignty and human rights, and convince North Korea that it must deal with Japanese demands in good faith as a condition for being accepted as a member of the international community.
The Pyongyang declaration also confirmed the importance of easing lingering post-Cold War military tensions in Northeast Asia, building confidence, and promoting dialogue on peace and stability. Normalization of multilateral relations between North Korea on the one hand, and Japan, the United States and South Korea on the other, will lay the foundation for a framework of peace.
The declaration ties Japanese-North Korean diplomatic normalization with peace and stability in Northeast Asia. Regarding security, the declaration made the following points:
* Both sides recognized that it is important to have a framework in place in order for these regional countries to promote confidence-building;
* Both sides confirmed that, for an overall resolution of nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula, they will comply with all related international agreements;
* Both sides also confirmed the necessity of resolving security problems, including nuclear and missile issues, by promoting dialogue among the countries concerned; and,
* North Korea expressed its intention to maintain its moratorium on missile launching in and after 2003.
These agreements are intended to pave the way for the resumption of Pyongyang-Washington talks. Kim reportedly asked Koizumi to convey to Washington his willingness to hold talks with the U.S.
Nuclear and missile issues are difficult to solve, however. Following the Pyongyang summit, the International Atomic Energy Agency decided to ask North Korea to accept its nuclear arms inspections immediately. The question is: Will North Korea accept the inspections?
North Korea did not say it would give up all ballistic missile tests indefinitely. North Korea’s Rodong ballistic missile, whose range covers Japan, is a serious threat to Japan. The new moratorium did not mention this missile.
On the side of the recent Asia-Europe Meeting summit in Copenhagen, Koizumi met with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji. Koizumi reportedly informed Zhu that he had convinced Kim that North Korea would benefit from cooperation with the international community. Zhu praised Koizumi’s Pyongyang visit as a diplomatic feat and promised Chinese help in the reconciliation and possible unification of North and South Korea, as well as in promoting dialogue between North Korea and other countries.
In bringing North Korea into the international community, cooperation among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea should be strengthened. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly important to create a six-nation framework for consultations that also involves North Korea, China and Russia.
ASEM’s Copenhagen political declaration for peace on the Korean Peninsula praised Koizumi’s diplomatic initiative and reconfirmed the importance of engaging North Korea in the international community through constructive dialogue.
We should not lose sight of the historic significance of the Pyongyang summit, which marked a step forward to peace and stability in Northeast Asia, as well as Japanese-North Korean diplomatic normalization.
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