Commentary / Japan

A letter to President Moon Jae-in

by Kuni Miyake

Dear President Moon,

Allow me to write to you out of the blue. The news about your excellency’s second encounter with your friend Mr. Kim Jong Un on May 26 prompted me to directly communicate with and convey to you my heartfelt congratulations on your timely inter-Korean summit meeting, which might have saved the U.S.-North Korea summit.

On this occasion, I express my deepest appreciation and admiration for your excellency’s tireless, sincere and extraordinary patient efforts to promote peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. While many of us in Japan hope that your dreams come true, some in Tokyo still cannot but seriously wonder how they could.

Although it is a little premature at this moment, let me sum up the developments since the New Year’s Day of 2018. Kim proposed inter-Korean talks over sending a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, wishing “for peaceful resolution with our southern border.”

To our surprise, just eight days later on Jan. 9, an inter-Korean ministerial level meeting that you proposed was held in Panmunjom and the two Koreas agreed to hold further high-level dialogue. With hindsight, the entire progression must be part of the joint inter-Korean reconciliation scenario that you invented with Kim.

This well-crafted joint ploy worked so well that even U.S. President Donald Trump on March 8 impulsively accepted Kim’s offer for a U.S.-North Korea summit. You must have been pleasantly surprised when your staff told you about Trump’s decision. That was the key factor in your excellency’s strenuous mediatory efforts.

You met with Kim for the first time on April 27 and then informed Trump of his commitment for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Although we in Tokyo still did not know what it means, Trump had already dispatched then-CIA chief Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang anyhow. American hostages were released. So far, so good.

Could you tell us: What did you hear from Kim and what did you tell Trump on the issue of denuclearization? Many in Tokyo are still very much anxious to know it because we believe that if you had told Trump exactly what Kim really meant, Trump would not have accepted a bilateral summit in whatever form.

Then came a turmoil in late May. Soon after the date and venue were announced for the first U.S.-North Korea summit, your friends in Pyongyang resumed harshly criticizing high-ranking U.S. officials including the vice president. No wonder, impulsive Trump first terminated and then apparently reinstated the June 12 Singapore meeting.

Your excellency must have been so embarrassed at that time because all your efforts seem to have started stalling. It was even humiliating for you that Trump canceled the historic summit meeting just two days after you met him in Washington. The inter-Korean joint scenario seems to have lost the most important actor in the play.

Weren’t you surprised when Trump said in front of you that after the second meeting between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping there was “a little change in attitude from Kim Jong Un” and “I don’t like it from the stand point of China”? His interpretation was that Kim became bold again after China guaranteed assistance to North Korea, though I am no sure about that.

On the contrary, my take is that although Kim might have changed his rhetoric vis-a-vis the United States, he never changed his basic position on denuclearization. What is more important is that China is successfully coming back to the main stage when the whole theater seems to have been dominated by the Korean and American actors.

You knew that Trump’s impulsive decision to kill the summit could have destroyed your dreams. That’s why your excellency immediately agreed to a meeting that Kim had requested on May 26, isn’t it? Fortunately, Trump has calmed down and now seems to be willing to meet Kim on schedule. So far, so good, again.

The ultimate question, however, is how to convince Kim to make up his mind. You know your friend Kim may not have been fully committed to the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of the entire nuclear arsenals of North Korea. You know how difficult it is and you are not very optimistic, are you?

Some in Tokyo are still skeptical about your motivation. They even believe that you, a legitimate successor to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, are also an anti-Japan, anti-U.S. liberal politician who puts less emphasis on U.S.-Japan-South Korea security cooperation and is more sympathetic toward the northern communist regime.

Please, make no mistake. Many in Japan, including myself, believe in Japan-Korea friendship and rapprochement. I support a peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula with a free, democratic, stable, prosperous, independent and unified state of Korea that shares our universal values common with the rest of the world.

I understand that you have been busy dealing with Pyongyang, Washington or Beijing these days. Nonetheless, may I suggest that now is the time to dramatically change your image among the Japanese, simply because, to fulfill your dream politically and financially, you need full support from the people and government of Japan.

Mr. President, now you have a great chance of improving Seoul’s relations with Tokyo. Since your excellency’s approval rating is very high at home, now you can do what you haven’t been able to do just six month ago. If you think strategically, now is the golden opportunity for to do so.

In this regard, I commend the courageous measures you took to prevent the statues of Korean laborers in front of Japan’s Consulate General in Busan from being installed. There are other statues near the Japanese diplomatic missions that can also be removed. If you so decide, your denuclearization plan will be successfully finalized.

Mr. President, the next few months will be critical in your endeavor to achieve peace and prosperity in the peninsula which the entire Korean nation deserves. You have successfully connected Pyongyang with Washington. Now it is high time for you to reconnect Seoul with Tokyo.

Best personal regards,

Kuni Miyake

Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies.