Tending to the neighbors

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Tending to the neighbors

National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong left for China and Russia Monday, and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon went to Japan to brief those neighboring countries on North Korea’s proposal for summits with South Korea and the United States and seek cooperation from them on the North Korean nuclear issue. After a hectic schedule starting with their trip last week to Pyongyang to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then to Washington to discuss with U.S. President Donald Trump Kim’s proposal for a summit, the two envoys are entrusted with a mission of explaining what has happened so far and drawing support from our neighbors.

As seen in the process of the reunification of East and West Germany, Korean peninsular issues are not simply confined to the two Koreas and the United States. Resolution of the nuclear crisis, inter-Korean exchanges and reunification of the peninsula are the very issues that could shake the overall security order in Northeast Asia. Therefore, the related parties in the region — Japan, China and Russia — are extremely sensitive about important developments on the peninsula. The three nations could also have significant influence on South-North issues.

A self-proclaimed mediator between South and North Korea over the nuclear conundrum, China has the power to help Pyongyang participate in a dialogue for peace. Thanks to its huge leverage on North Korea, Beijing can even neutralize international sanctions on the rogue state if it wants to. Due to its close proximity, Japan is exposed to the North’s nuclear threat as South Korea is. That’s why Tokyo has been showing a nearly allergic reaction to nuclear provocations from North Korea whenever it test-fired long-range missiles. Japan is increasingly worried about the possibility of it being excluded from the discussion.

Japan could not take part in the negotiations for summits between Seoul and Washington and between Washington and Pyongyang. But it can play a key role in offering economic aid to North Korea in the future in return for Pyongyang’s pledge to scrap nuclear weapons if the two summits go smoothly. South Korea should not dismiss Japan as a diplomatic and security partner. Russia also can wield strong influence over North Korea given its remarkably improved ties with Pyongyang.

South Korea must draw support for the denuclearization of North Korea from the three countries. Their cooperation will also help improve inter-Korean relations. The two envoys must do their best to ease their neighbors’ concerns about the possibility of being left out of the peace process.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 13, Page 30
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