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Tadae Takubo

【#506】Reviving Confrontation: Japan-U.S.-S. Korea vs. China-N. Korea

Tadae Takubo / 2018.04.03 (Tue)

April 2, 2018

     From April to May, summit talks are expected to take place between Japan and the United States, between North and South Korea, and between the United States and North Korea. Amid conflicting reports, I am not very sure how to sum up the present situation. However, a plausible observation might be that the Japan-U.S.-South Korea-China solidarity to contain North Korea has collapsed since the groundbreaking meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Beijing on March 26, leading China and North Korea to revive confrontation with Japan, the United States and South Korea.

N. Korea shaken by U.S. intimidation
     China and North Korea suddenly held their summit talks as they came to need each other. The first factor prompting the North Korean leader to rush to Beijing may be the effective impact of U.N. sanctions on North Korea in which China and Russia have participated. As U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have been united to exert “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang, pains have conspicuously begun to emerge, says The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who visited North Korea last September.
     U.S. military threats have also become powerful pressure on Pyongyang. President Trump, who has described himself as good at cutting deals, has chosen Mike Pompeo as new state secretary and John Bolton as his new national security adviser. Both are known as hardliners against North Korea. Pompeo has called for separating the supreme North Korean leader’s will from his capabilities, effectively seeking the assassination of the one jeopardizing the national security of the United States. In a contribution to a newspaper, Bolton justified a preemptive strike on North Korea. North Korean leader Kim could not remain unshaken by the American trio’s coercive pressure.

China afraid of closer U.S.-N. Korea relations
     While China has decided to impose sanctions on North Korea in a manner to succumb to the Trump administration’s strong recommendation, the United States has enacted the Taiwan Travel Act enabling ministerial visits and talks on security and other matters between the United States and Taiwan, instead of softening its attitude toward China. The U.S. Navy has resumed “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea that had been suspended for a while. The United States has also come up with strong sanctions on China for intellectual property violation, targeting Chinese products worth as much as $60 billion.
     The fate of the U.S.-North Korea summit is still uncertain. China, while confronting with the United States on various fronts, may be afraid of any closer relations between Washington and Pyongyang. In October 1986, then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and then Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev held talks in Reykjavik, Iceland. The talks broke down as Gorbachev raised the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative unexpectedly to anger Reagan. However, the meeting led to the end of the Cold War. China may be concerned about “post-Reykjavik” developments.

Tadae Takubo is Vice President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals