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Japan, S. Korea, US must address deeper challenges to trilateral unity

Publication Date : 28-03-2014

 

It is vital that the Japan-US and US-South Korean alliances should be once again enabled to function at multiple levels.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye participated in trilateral talks in The Hague, where they agreed to tighten cooperative relations in dealing with North Korean nuclear issues. The leaders also confirmed the importance of China playing an appropriate role in resolving these matters.

Thanks to mediation by the United States, Abe and Park met for their first face-to-face talks. We welcome the move for the present. Any disarray among Japan, South Korea and the United States will make it impossible to effectively respond to Pyongyang over its repeated nuclear tests and missile launches.

At roughly the same time that the talks were going on, North Korea fired two Rodong ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. This appears to be not only a warning aimed at Tokyo, Seoul and Washington, but also a sign of anxiety from Pyongyang over its own isolation.

Persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear development programme will require deeper, more substantive cooperation between the foreign and defence authorities of Japan, South Korea and the United States, and rebuilding the net to contain the North with the assistance of China and other nations.

Obama is scheduled to visit Japan and South Korea in late April. We hope this visit will be an opportunity to strengthen solidarity among all three nations for the sake of the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.

At the three-way summit meeting, Abe also indicated he would attach importance to coordinating with South Korea and the United States on the issue of Japanese nationals abducted years ago by North Korean agents. To make progress on the abduction issue, it will be crucial to step up efforts to engage Pyongyang through a combination of “dialogue and pressure” based on this trilateral cooperation.

Message for China

Although Abe did not single out China by name, he stressed that any attempt to “change the status quo with force in the background” would not be tolerated. This is an important point.

China has been strengthening its military capabilities and demonstrating moves in an apparent attempt to expand its territories and maritime interests in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

To deter China from resorting to adventurism, as Moscow has recently done by incorporating Crimea into Russia, it is vital that Japan, South Korea and the United States hold a common view that any attempt to change the status quo by force will not be tolerated, and urge China to behave responsibly.

The trilateral summit agenda did not include the so-called comfort women issue or issues concerning perceptions of history. We still believe these pending problems can only be resolved through regular dialogue between Japan and South Korea and by seeking common ground.

Park agreed to attend the three-way summit in deference to the United States, but she still insists a Japan-South Korea summit meeting can only go ahead after Tokyo “takes sincere steps” on the comfort women issue and fulfills other conditions. Her inflexible attitude shows no sign of cracking, and the path to repairing strained bilateral ties still seems very long.

All wartime reparation and compensation issues for individuals, including comfort women, were fully settled when Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations in 1965. This is not a matter on which Japan can easily yield concessions. Yet, the current state in which the two nations’ leaders cannot hold formal talks is disadvantageous for both Tokyo and Seoul.

As a starting point, Japan and South Korea should share their wisdom through talks at the director general level as well as other channels. Both sides must look to steps like these to mend their ties.

 

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