North Korea has fired off its ninth ballistic missile of the year. This one, as a few before it, splashed down in the Sea of Japan inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This is dangerous behavior indeed, and we cannot approve such actions.
The launch came just after the Group of Seven (G-7) leaders issued a statement calling on North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapon and missile development programs, and appears likely to only deepen the country’s international isolation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that Japan would “take concrete action” together with the United States. However, there is little Japan can actually do, as it has already implemented as many sanctions on North Korea as it can on its own. The “concrete actions” cupboard is quite bare at this point.
After Abe met with U.S. President Donald Trump last week, the two leaders agreed that they would use pressure over dialogue to curb the Kim Jong Un regime’s excesses, but military pressure has its limitations. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis recently stated that a military resolution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.”
And so we look to the key to solving the North Korean problem: China.
There have been many recent reports of friction between Beijing and Pyongyang, but the fact that China has more influence over the Kim regime than any other foreign power is unchanged. North Korea does some 90 percent of its trade with China, and it is dependent on Beijing for its oil supply.
China, meanwhile, wants peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, which is why it opposes the North’s nuclear program. Thus, a united front among China, Japan, the U.S. and South Korea against North Korea’s nuclear weapons development should be possible.
President Trump has been leaning on China hard over the issue, even saying that the U.S. could give China concessions in trade negotiations if Beijing uses its influence in Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear and missile problem. Japan should align its policy with the U.S. and work to bring China into an international encirclement of North Korea. To do this, Japan must build the conditions for smooth relations and mutual understanding with Beijing.
Yang Jiechi, a member of China’s State Council and the country’s leading light on foreign policy, is now visiting Japan. He is likely to lay the groundwork for a meeting between Prime Minister Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in July. This, in turn, is hoped to open the way for the leaders to resume visits to one another’s countries.
2017 marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relations after World War II. This is a good opportunity to strengthen and expand bilateral ties.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs are a clear and present danger to Japan. We call on Japan to devise a diplomatic strategy to prompt China to take a proactive, forward-looking approach to resolving the North Korean crisis.