Sophisticated diplomacy neededThe United States expressed a willingness to sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea if the latter commits itself to denuclearization, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Tokyo. In a press conference following foreign and defense ministerial meetings, Kerry said, “We are prepared to sign a non-aggression agreement providing North Korea decides to denuclearize and to engage in legitimate negotiations to achieve that end.”
Although the pact is built on the idea of denuclearization, we cannot take a reference to a bilateral peace deal with North Korea lightly, especially by a senior U.S. official in charge of foreign affairs.
The North Korean nuclear issue has been pushed back on Washington’s priority list of foreign affairs. The United States is entirely engrossed with Middle East affairs involving Syria, Iran and the Palestinians. Washington has repeatedly said it won’t sit down for talks with Pyongyang unless it demonstrates a clear will to denuclearize. While talking about the non-aggression agreement, Kerry said Washington won’t repeat the past mistake of negotiations “which go around in a circle, where there’s some concessions, some agreement, and then the agreement is broken.” Kerry was offering something Pyongyang has long been pursuing as a reward for surrendering its nuclear weapons program.
The Northeast Asia geopolitical math is getting more complicated. After a U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting among foreign and defense ministers of the two countries, Washington formally supported Tokyo’s plan to exercise its right to collective self-defense, expand its defense budget and strengthen its military capabilities to defend its territory and broaden regional security participation. Once Tokyo reinterprets its post-war Constitution, Japan will be able to establish a full-fledged military capable of engaging in war to defend its allies or sovereign territory.
Kerry said the United States has made it clear that it recognizes Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China, which means that the United States can come to defend its ally if Japan enters a military clash with China. Washington has sent a clear message that a stronger military in Japan will help to contain the influence of China.
Japan’s military buildup will likely have huge repercussions on the Northeast Asian order. South Korea will be most uncomfortable with the rise of a new ideological lineup. Despite our traditional security alliance with Washington, Seoul cannot ignore Beijing. It must exercise sophisticated statesmanship in order to prevent a contentious power struggle among global and regional powers.