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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#267】Abe Should Not Make Same Mistake as U.S. in Dealing with N. Korea

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2014.10.09 (Thu)

October 6, 2014

     I am concerned that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could make a great mistake in dealing with North Korea. As Japan's talks with North Korea start, some people usually argue that Japan should make concessions first to keep the window open for talks.
     Just after then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang in 2002 for the first time ever, Hitoshi Tanaka, then director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and some others argued that unless Japanese abductees who then returned from North Korea were sent back to the North, Japan would lose a contact with North Korea. In the second half of the Bush administration period, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as Christopher Hill, then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, lifted financial sanctions on North Korea before the North's expected dismantlement of nuclear facilities, eventually making a mistake. If we make concessions, the North always ends up bilking us.

More struggling is North Korea
     South Korean experts who have observed North Korea over a long time say North Korea is now more struggling than Japan. North Korea has made an approach to Japan in a bid to win some concessions from the latter. By assuring their leader Kim Jong-un that North Korea could win specific concessions, North Korean officials in charge of relations with Japan should have obtained his approval on their plan to launch talks with Japan and a special investigation committee on Japanese abductees. If Japan cuts off the talks, the officials' assurance may be viewed as a lie given to the supreme leader. They are risking their lives for the talks to win concessions from Japan. If Japan gets tougher, North Korean negotiators may try to persuade their boss to provide Japan information on abductees in order to keep the door open for the talks.
     In order to win something from Pyongyang, Japan has no choice but to exert pressure. The North Koreans move only when they feel pain. Unlike ordinary diplomatic negotiations, we cannot persuade the North to maximize mutual benefits through mutual concessions.
     "It is now more difficult to deal with North Korea than when Prime Minister Koizumi visited the North," incumbent Prime Minister Abe said at a meeting with families of Japanese abductees in late March. "This is because we have to reverse the claim made by the leader viewed as God in an autocratic state like North Korea. To this end, we have no choice but to exert strong pressure at negotiations." Abe meant that unless Japan reverses then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's claim that eight abductees had died, Megumi Yokota or any other abductee will not be rescued.

Don't walk into a trap made by North Korea
     In response to a North Korean recommendation, the Japanese government is considering sending a delegation to Pyongyang to grasp North Korea's ongoing investigations into the fate of Japanese abductees and other missing citizens. But Song Il-ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of normalizing relations with Japan, has recently declared that no report could be made on specific investigation results regarding the fate of each Japanese citizen at present. The Japanese government should now threaten to reintroduce sanctions lifted earlier on North Korea and nullify bilateral talks unless North Korea quickly presents the investigation results. Japan should not send any delegation to Pyongyang for now. Sending such delegation may amount to walking into a North Korean trap.

Tsutomu Nishioka is Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Tokyo Christian University.