[TODAY]Japan hardens on North KoreaA group of experts on the Korean Peninsula from South Korea, the United States and Japan recently had an informal discussion at the dinner table of an American diplomat in Tokyo. The first point of agreement was that the United States and Japan have now shed a considerable amount of distrust in President Roh Moo-hyun.
Last week, Kim Jong-pil, the leader of the United Liberal Democrats, heard the same information in Tokyo after meeting several Japanese politicians. “Some Japanese politicians who had been concerned about President Roh said they felt relieved after seeing his behavior during his visit to the United States,” he said. Some conservative politicians went so far as to imply to Mr. Kim that Japan may impose sanctions, such as banning transfers of money, on North Korea.
The surge of hostility among Japanese politicians against Pyeongyang is largely because the North Korean nuclear program provoked Japanese public opinion. A package of bills outlining Japan’s response to military contingencies was easily rushed through lower house of Japanese Diet. There seems to be no political force that would keep the Japanese government from turning hard-line on North Korea. Should North Korea test-fire one more missile, North Korea-Japan relations could deteriorate beyond repair. Japan is also determined to act firmly should any North Korean ships intrude in Japanese waters.
Japan seems quite content that President Roh Moo-hyun went boldly against the wishes of his supporters back home to turn so completely to the side of the United States. It is also happy that the U.S.-Korea joint statement went along with the U.S. position. Japan seemed to welcome especially the fact that President Roh has now linked inter-Korean affairs with the progress of nuclear negotiations and that South Korea and the United States will consider taking additional measures against North Korea should the nuclear crisis worsen. Mr. Roh can now expect a warm welcome when he visits Tokyo early next month.
Japanese experts are disappointed that the Roh-Bush joint declaration had no details of actions to be taken against North Korea, but they seem to find significance in the fact that Mr. Roh, who had earlier promised to inherit and carry on the “sunshine policy,” has affirmed that South Korea would no longer be swayed by the North. It has now become a fact that inter-Korean dialogue will only go so far unless there is progress in solving the nuclear issue.
A well-placed Japanese expert on military affairs, commenting on the phrase in the joint statement on the deployment of U.S. troops south of the Han River, said that the move would give the United States the freedom of movement necessary to attack nuclear facilities in North Korea. The Japanese government is still opposed to any preemptive strikes by the United States that could lead to a war on the peninsula.
The reason that concern is rising about such a possibility is that the hard-line policy on North Korea is led by neo-conservatives in the United States who also led the war in Iraq. It is the firm belief of the neo-conservatives that the United States should launch preemptive strikes when any of the rogue states included in the axis of evil designated by President Bush shows the slightest sign of suspicious activity. The confidence of these neo-conservatives has reached their height since their success in toppling the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq.
A firm attitude is needed in dealing with North Korea, but attention should also be paid to the moves of the American neo-conservatives. They have now gained an international reputation as being ruthless enough to launch preemptive strikes on countries that export nuclear weapons and missiles or are suspected of aiding terrorists. They need no United Nations resolutions or blessings of their allies and other major countries to do so. It is a welcome irony that such an undesirable unrestrained drive could have a desirable restraining effect on North Korea.
On returning from the United States, President Roh was met by criticism from his own party but by support from the opposition party. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, is experiencing the same phenomenon. Mr. Blair acted in the interests of his country by supporting the war in Iraq, a fact that is praised by the opposition parties but condemned by his own party.
Following the summit meeting between President Roh and President Bush, a summit meeting between Mr. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then one between Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Roh are coming. The biggest issue, of course, is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
It is unfortunate that North Korea does not know the United States or the ways of international politics. Japan is drifting further and further away from the North. It seems ready to join in any sanctions against the North except for military action.
The security ambivalence of Northeast Asia is now at a crossroads thanks to the North Korean nuclear weapons program. China, acting in concert with the United States in holding the North in check, is evidence of this.
It is at least fortunate that President Roh has now turned into a pragmatist whom Mr. Bush called an “easy man to talk to.”
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie