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T. Kimiya: Address to International Leadership Conference 2019

Address to International Leadership Conference 2019, Seoul, Korea, May 15-17, 2019


First, I will present an analysis of the current situation of the Korean peninsula. Denuclearization of North Korea must be realized by all means. When North Korea’s nuclear holdings become established facts, it is easily expected that nuclear deterrence will have some influence in Japan and South Korea. This is due to the response to North Korea’s nuclear threat as well as a decline in the U.S.’s ability to maintain a nonproliferation regime. It is not desirable for countries in Northeast Asia to be nuclear-armed so that “peace” can be barely maintained by a “balance of fear.”

Moreover, North Korea itself has promised to denuclearize. Of course, we do not know how much trust we can place on their word. However, North Korea claims it will denuclearize, so we have to guide them towards concrete action. There is no downside to taking such a course.

Thus, although we do not fully believe North Korea’s intention, we should choose to continue negotiations for denuclearization. If North Korea does not fulfill its promise, it will only be necessary to maintain and strengthen sanctions like before and continue to choose not to provide the return that North Korea would like.

The current situation is that North Korea wants to implement gradual denuclearization and receive a corresponding return. However, the U.S. wants North Korea to take immediate steps towards complete denuclearization. There is a big gap between their positions. Meanwhile, South Korea’s efforts to mediate U.S.–North Korea negotiations are currently at a standstill.

The collapse of the U.S.–North Korea summit in Hanoi in February and the “failure” of the U.S. and ROK summit talks in April show this clearly. However, it is also true that neither the U.S. nor North Korea want a breakdown of talks.

Both sides avoid any claim that they are responsible for the situation. It may be difficult for South Korea to mediate between the two distant positions. Then what should they do? President Trump requested South Korea to act as mediator. The U.S. administration displayed a positive attitude during the talks, yet U.S. political experts have all been skeptical about the denuclearization of North Korea.

First of all, I believe South Korea needs to be more serious about persuading the entire U.S. political community, not only President Trump. In other words, South Korea should persuade the U.S. political and diplomatic experts about the necessity for the U.S.–North Korea negotiations to succeed in denuclearization and the disadvantages of failure. This is what the South Korean government has never done before.

Next, persuade North Korea. Certainly, North Korea’s position to not negotiate under the precondition of denuclearization is understandable. However, even for North Korea, the benefits that can be obtained with denuclearization are large. This is an important point to emphasize. South Korea should persuade the North to prioritize the implementation of denuclearization by guaranteeing the benefits. Certainly, South Korea still has a deep-seated vigilance, particularly among the conservatives, that they avoid being deceived by North Korea again. However, no one, including the conservatives, wants a failure or to return to the situation like it was in 2017.

Lastly, Japan is having a hard time to understand why South Korea does not move in this direction. In a nutshell, it is hard to understand why the Moon Jae-in administration does not try to strengthen the relationship between Japan and South Korea and take a more serious stance as a mediator between the U.S. and North Korea and seek Japan’s cooperation.

In the past, the Kim Dae-jung administration chose such an approach. By the partnership declaration between Japan and South Korea (President Kim Dae Jun and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and the Perry Process during President Clinton’s administration), South Korea was able to gain the cooperation of Japan and the United States. As a result, South Korea achieved a considerable degree of tension relief from the 2000 inter-Korean summit (between South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-il).

However, the Moon Jae-In administration has failed to do so despite the precedent that should be used as an example. Certainly, it is true that Japan is skeptical of North Korea’s denuclearization intentions due to that country’s past actions, especially the abduction issue, etc.

Japan does not want North Korea to continue nuclear development and the development of nuclear arms. Denuclearization of North Korea will also be beneficial for Japan’s security. The South Korean government should confirm the common interests of Japan and South Korea for the denuclearization of North Korea and should emphasize the necessity of cooperation between Japan and South Korea.

It seems like South Korea has given up on Japan, but on the other hand, there is a kind of “optimism” that if North Korea and the U.S. were successful, then Japan would have to follow along. In the background, there is a mix of under-estimation and over-estimation of Japan’s role, and a glimpse of an attitude of not recognizing Japan’s role.

Japan–South Korea relationship

It cannot be denied that Japan-ROK relations have deteriorated due to the issues of the comfort women and wartime forced labor and slavery. The South Korean government argues that these are separate issues from the problems of North Korea, but if the government cannot do anything to obtain a comfort women’s agreement or the decision on the wartime forced laborers, it will be difficult to obtain any cooperation from Japan.

Since it is South Korea that is leading the current status change, the South Korean government needs to show some accountability for it. Nevertheless, it is the South Korean government’s current stance that this is a judicial decision and nothing can be done.

It would be inevitable for the South Korean government to be criticized as being irresponsible if it does not show any clear attitude. Above all, if it is important to compensate the victims for damages and restore the infringed human rights, there should be a consideration of how to make it compatible with the interstate commitment of claim agreement. It will be two plus one, which shows that South Korean companies benefit from economic cooperation with the Japanese government.

With the South Korean government’s claim that it cannot do this because of a judicial intervention, this position reflects their attitude to not cooperate with Japan regarding the U.S.–North Korea denuclearization talks, for which South Korea serves as mediator. The South Korean government should secure international cooperation on the issue of the denuclearization of North Korea.

I respect the South Korean government’s stance of working to mediate the U.S.–North Korea relations for the denuclearization of North Korea, and I hope for a successful outcome. However, the current situation, in my estimation, is not healthy nor is it progressing.

The future of the Korean peninsula

It will be difficult to achieve, in a short period of time, North-South unification or a situation of peaceful coexistence. It may be necessary to prepare for a scenario in which North Korea’s current system collapses due to some sort of emergency. If that happens, the U.S.–South Korea alliance is necessary, but I think, and this is my key point, a Japan–South Korea alliance is equally needed. And it is equally important to discuss China’s role in Northeast Asia.

However, if Japan and South Korea are at odds, the range of diplomatic choices between the two countries will be greatly narrowed. Both Japan and South Korea should now consider whether narrowing their own options is appropriate or reasonable for Japan and South Korea.



To go to the May 2019 ILC Schedule page, click here.