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Editorial: Japan-U.S. talks show signs of changing policy toward N. Korea

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson met in Tokyo to discuss a range of issues — but primarily the two countries’ policies toward North Korea.


At a joint press conference following the meeting, Tillerson declared that diplomatic efforts of the past two decades had failed, and emphasized the need for “a different approach” to North Korea.


The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is already in the process of reviewing the government’s North Korea policy, saying all options are being considered, including the possibility of a pre-emptive strike. This means that the Trump administration is likely considering a retreat from the Obama-era North Korea policy of “strategic patience.”


A hard-line stance taken by the U.S. in itself applies pressure on North Korea. However, any brash military action has the possibility of causing great damage to both Japan and South Korea, and is not something that Japan can easily condone. The same goes for South Korea.


Effective policy is difficult to realize if the interests and circumstances of just the U.S. are taken into consideration. That Tillerson expressed the U.S. government’s intention to consult with Japan, China and South Korea on the matter is appropriate.


The North Korean threat is ever increasing. The isolationist state has launched multiple ballistic missiles into waters near Japan, and is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that would put the continental United States within the missiles’ range. Analysts have also suggested that North Korea is in the process of building a facility for nuclear tests that are greater in magnitude than those the country has conducted in the past.


The mysterious death of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has once again confirmed that the North Korean regime is unpredictable.


Following his visit to Japan, Tillerson continues on to South Korea, where he will visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the border separating the Korean peninsula into north and south. Such a move by the U.S. secretary of state indicates that the main focus of his East Asia visit is indeed North Korea.


South Korean politics is currently in a state of turmoil following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, but the security cooperation between Japan and the U.S. is steadily moving forward. Tripartite drills for sharing ballistic missile information among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea are set to take place this month, and large-scale U.S.-South Korea war games are being carried out in South Korea right now. We must continue such collaborative efforts going forward.


A stable Japan-South Korea relationship is crucial for Japan, the U.S. and South Korea to coordinate its policies. The agreement on the issue of so-called “comfort women” reached by the governments of Japan and South Korea in December 2015 constitutes the foundation of a stable bilateral relationship. It was appropriate that Tillerson confirmed at a press conference that the U.S. stood behind that agreement.


The South Korean public largely remains opposed to the bilateral agreement, but we hope that the next South Korean administration set to launch in May will respect the accord. Meanwhile, Tokyo must cooperate in creating an environment in which Seoul can implement measures specified in the agreement.


It has been reported that when Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, former President Barack Obama told him that North Korea was the No. 1 issue in U.S. national security. We, in Japan, will continue to closely watch the Trump administration’s review of U.S. policy toward North Korea.

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