The United Nations Security Council, including China and Russia, unanimously adopted a resolution that toughens sanctions against North Korea. The U.S. is maintaining its pressure against the North, but on the other hand, it is beginning to hint at the possibility of holding dialogue. Is it possible to stop North Korea’s military provocations? The Nikkei interviewed various experts and asked them to share their thoughts. The first interview is with Narushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS).
Sanctions depend on China
Q: The UNSC has adopted an additional sanctions resolution.
Michishita: North Korea is raking in foreign currency by exporting natural resources. At the same time, it is moving into a competitive market economy. The export ban will have a limited impact on the country’s overall economic activity, but it will slash the country’s foreign currency earnings. This will help rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
Whether additional sanctions will prove effective depends on China. The U.S.’s position is that it can contemplate holding dialogue if China is committed to applying pressure on the North. On the other hand, if China does not cooperate, it may take a tougher stance by resorting to secondary sanctions and other measures.
Q: North Korea is becoming more isolated. What steps do you think the regime will take?
Michishita: We need to find out what it plans to do. If we don’t hold dialogue, we won’t be able to know what the North wants. To gauge what Kim Jong-un has in mind, we must hold dialogue at a certain point.
Q: North Korea is rushing to develop nuclear and missile technologies. Do you think it will agree to dialogue?
Michishita: If the U.S. shows a commitment to improving ties with the North, it may agree to halt its nuclear and missile tests. The other possibility is that the regime may plan to agree to dialogue after its nuclear and missile development is nearly complete. We don’t know what it has in mind unless we approach the country for dialogue.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is sizing up North Korea’s response while leaving room for dialogue. Now the U.S. and North Korea are in the bargaining stage to prepare for dialogue. North Korea will change its stance depending on the situation. Both countries want to have an advantage over the other once negotiations start. So with this in mind, they are trying to find common ground.
Q: You point out that Kim Jong-un is highly capable compared with Kim Jong-il.
Michishita: I am not fully confident that he is highly capable, but he has a strong potential. People say that while Jong-il was highly capable of making predictions, Jong-un is not. But it is not fair to compare Jong-un with Jong-il when he was in the prime of his life, because the junior Kim is still in the incipient phase of running the government.
Jong-il also purged his political enemies. In the past, the regime was more closed to the outside world than now. In addition, nobody was interested in North Korean domestic affairs, and what was happening there went unnoticed. For North Korea, nuclear and missile development makes sense. Though we need to continue to determine [the regime’s intention], Jong-un is not “crazy.”
Japan should maintain the stance of “pressuring the North”
Q: If the international community becomes inclined to hold dialogue, what stance should Japan take?
Michishita: As a gesture to the outside world, Japan should emphasize an attitude of “applying strong pressure.” If Japan shows it is willing to hold dialogue, it may be pressed to compromise. But showing a stance of assertiveness on the external front and making preparations for dialogue within the government are two different stories. To prepare for dialogue, Japan needs to build networks as well as think about what to discuss and how to negotiate.
In the process of negotiations [with the North] over nuclear and missile development, the topic of economic aid may be proposed. Japan would earn credit from the international community if it could present aid programs that are sustainable and will increasingly benefit the North if it keeps its promise. This would also make it easy for Japan to remind the North about the abduction issue and win the backing of other concerned nations.