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H. Takagi: Address to International Leadership Conference 2019

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


I’m Hirohisa Takagi, a former member of the House of Representatives in Japan. It’s a great pleasure to speak to you all this morning.

Today, I’d like to talk about the critical importance of cooperation between Japan, South Korea and the United States. I’ll begin by describing the recent events surrounding Northeast Asia that affect security in the region, and then move on to why we need to reinforce the trilateral relationship. Finally, I’ll end with the prospect of security in the region.

The Recent Events

As you know, U.S. President Donald Trump had his first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year. At the summit, Kim Jong Un committed to “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” However, with no timeline or any real concession from North Korea, we have questioned how the complete denuclearization of North Korea will be realized in the near future. This view was also widely shared in Japan: According to a joint survey by the Yomiuri Shimbum and The Hankook Ibo that had been conducted around that time, 83 percent of Japanese respondents did not think complete denuclearization would be realized in the near future. As a consequence of the summit, President Trump suspended some U.S. military exercises with South Korea, including a major summer drill, as a concession to Kim. I believe an extended suspension of comprehensive training between the allies could weaken the fighting capacity of the militaries of both countries. North Korea, on the other hand, would likely benefit since it has described the drills as preparation for invasion and responded with its own costly exercises. Last February, President Trump held a second summit meeting with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. The summit ended abruptly with no deal. It seems denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea remain stalled, and the pace of negotiations is halting for the foreseeable future. More than ever, the three countries—Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.— need to bolster their cooperation with one another in dealing with North Korea.

Another concern relates to President Trump’s repeated assertions that the U.S. military deployment in South Korea is too costly. He also has previously threatened to pull American forces from South Korea and Japan if those nations refused to pay more to have U.S. troops stationed in their countries. If President Trump pulls out some of the troops because of money issues, I believe it could weaken the situation militarily because there would be a loss of both the soldiers and their weapons and equipment.

There is also concern that Japan-South Korea relations are deteriorating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have chilled recently due to each country’s military. Worsening Japan-South Korea ties may cause a problem in the trilateral response posture, such as the missile defense cooperation, which should swiftly come into operation in the event of an emergency on the Korea peninsula.

Trilateral Relationship

I’d like now to turn to the importance of the trilateral alliance between Japan, South Korea and the U.S. A three-way alliance is needed to present a united front against China and North Korea. For example, the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea has, for the past six decades, been a core pillar of the U.S.-led security architecture in Northeast Asia. The alliance is broadly integral to maintaining a balance of power in the region. I think it is well understood that the defense of South Korea depends on the integration of U.S. forces based on the peninsula with those based in Japan and on the de facto cooperation of Japanese SDF (Self-Defense Forces) in responding to any attacks on South Korea. It is also critical that trilateral alliance embraces the U.S. military’s efforts to counter a rising China. I must emphasize, at this critical time in this region, it is imperative not to hamper the trilateral security cooperation, not only for the stability and peace of the Korean peninsula but also for the security of Japan.


At this point, we must consider where the trilateral alliance is heading. Last February, U.S. lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, joined together to tout the long alliance between Japan, South Korea and the U.S. amid an intensifying feud between Japan and South Korea. They introduced resolutions in the House of Representatives and Senate affirming Congress’ strong support for ties between the three countries and the critical importance of cooperation. That’s because the dispute between Japan and South Korea threatens regional efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program as well as broader security cooperation in the region.

The U.S. has played a role in mediating some historical issues and bridging the two sides, in the past. Past U.S. administrations, which valued alliances, considered Japan-South Korea relations a strategic factor for the United States. However, it seems that the Trump administration views U.S. relations with South Korea and with Japan separately. To break the deadlock, a high-level dialogue must be arranged in order for our response in the security dimension not to be impacted. Any situation that would allow the trilateral alliance to become shaky must be avoided.

Before closing, I would like to introduce one of my favorite quotes. It’s by Sir Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is a courage to continue that counts.”

I want to thank you all for your attention.



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