Japan expresses skepticism about inter-Korean dialogue

While the rest of the international community welcomed the resumption of the inter-Korean dialogue and North Korea’s decision to attend the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Japan has expressed its skepticism.

Expectations are high among countries that the agreement between the two Koreas to resume talks would reduce regional tension and lead to meaningful multilateral dialogue on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

There have been welcoming statements from the UN Secretary-General, the United Nations Security Council, the International Olympic Committee and the governments of the United States, China, Russia as well as some European nations.

However, Japan has raised doubts over the effectiveness of the inter-Korean talks, saying the talks could negate international sanctions on North Korea.

The two Koreas agreed for the North to take part in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and to resume inter-Korean military talks, Tuesday.

Following the agreement, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, ” Tokyo will not alter its established security policy in response to North Korea’s entrance into the Winter Olympics and will continue full steam ahead in rallying further assurance and pressure from Washington, South Korea, and China.”

Japan Times, in its editorial today said, “The North is hoping to drive a wedge between South Korea, on the one hand, and the United States and Japan, on the other, in the tripartite effort to corner Pyongyang into ending its military ambitions and provocations. The three countries need to keep up their close coordination as they deal with North Korea so that the North-South dialogue won’t be used as a cover for Pyongyang to fend off tightening pressure for its denuclearization or to buy time while it upgrades its nuclear arms and missile capabilities.”

It further said, “Seoul may appear to have gained what it wanted through the meeting. But Pyongyang’s intentions must be scrutinized. Given that the international sanctions have severely restricted the North’s international trade and its means of earning foreign currency, Pyongyang clearly wants to loosen the encircling net against it by improving its relations with Seoul — and possibly to revive the economic cooperation with the South such as relaunching joint operations in the Kaesong industrial park, from which South Korea pulled out in February 2016.”

“The two sides also agreed to hold further high-level talks. By keeping up the dialogue with Seoul, Pyongyang can use the talks as a shield against military pressure from the U.S.,” the Japan Times said.

The Asahi Shimbun stated, “This is a plan to create a hole in the international net which encircles (North Korea), and earn time to complete its nuclear and missile weapons, by mutual yielding with President Moon Jae-in who is proactive toward talks with the North.”

Japan is seen as not wanting to take chances after Pyongyang launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) over its territory and conducted a nuclear test last year.

PM Abe’s hard-line stance on 2 Koreas

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hard-line stance toward North Korea is seen to have helped his party win a majority in Japan’s general election in October last. The victory came amid Abe’s falling approval rates due to a personal corruption scandal involving the discounted purchase of a site for a nationalist school where his wife was invited to serve as honorary principal.

Pundits say Abe utilized growing public anxiety over North Korea’s military threats.

While Tokyo has no formal diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, ties with Seoul have become increasingly strained of late, due to the controversy over an agreement reached on wartime sex slaves between the two states.

In the deal struck in December 2015, the two countries agreed to put the long-disputed issue to rest, with Japan providing South Korean victims 1 billion yen in government funds. Civil society groups representing sex slave victims and liberal politicians in South Korea have called for the agreement to be scrapped, stating the victims’ voices for legal compensation had been ignored.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said the deal was flawed and failed to reflect the opinions of victims, according to results of an investigation into the deal by a panel within the ministry.

Abe on Friday rejected South Korea’s calls for a sincere apology to the “comfort women”.

Abe’s remarks, the first from the Japanese leader since South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for the apology during a recent New Year’s press conference on Tuesday, came despite Seoul not requesting a bilateral deal on the issue be renegotiated.

Shyamal Bikash Chakma

Shyamal Bikash Chakma is Public Editor of The aPolitical and a PhD candidate in Development Studies at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and recipient of the Felix Scholarship 2017.
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