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Unified nuclear Korea to be Japan’s nightmare

The possibility of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, which could break out with a military action by the U.S., is rapidly becoming a possibility. However, what is more threatening is a possible situation in East Asia after the presumed collapse of North Korea.


The worst scenario for the Japanese government is the emergence of a unified Korea with nuclear weapons.


What if a unified nuclear Korea fell into step with China and become anti-Japan and anti-U.S., which could result in the eventual withdrawal of the U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula?


Japan’s defense line would have to be moved southward from the current 38th parallel to the Tsushima Strait. Japan’s command of the sea in the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea would be threatened, which would affect Japan’s sea-lane defense in the area.


Japan would be also financially pressured by a unified Korea that poses a security threat to Tokyo.


Although Japan and South Korea concluded the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea in 1965 and completely settled issues of property and the right to make claims, Tokyo still has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. In September 2002, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited North Korea to meet with then-Workers Party of Korea General Secretary Kim Jong-Il. The two leaders agreed in the Japan-Pyongyang Declaration that after diplomatic normalization, Japan would provide financial assistance of reportedly one trillion yen to the DPRK.


The unified Korea, if realized, could demand that Japan pay more than one trillion yen as postwar compensation to North Korea. With nuclear weapons threatening Japan’s territorial waters and land, how would Japan respond to the demand?


Considering the current U.S.-China relations, the possibility seems low that the two countries will easily accept a unified Korea.


This is because China will strongly avoid having a U.S. ally as its neighbor on the other side of a land border, while the U.S. is concerned about the future course to be taken by a unified Korea. Both the U.S. and China desire to have North Korea serve as a buffer zone.


Russia also has a strong interest in the future course of North Korea.


Russia is confronted by member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization along its western border. It would be impossible for President Vladimir Putin to allow a unified Korea under the influence of the U.S. to emerge on its eastern border.


President Putin is also proud that North Korea was created as a puppet state of the former Soviet Union’s. While China-North Korea relations are deteriorating, Russia continues supporting North Korea behind the scenes. This is because President Putin wants to keep extant the DPRK under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un.


North Korea is also leaning toward Russia. In late September, North American Department director-general Choe Son-Hui of the Foreign Ministry (reportedly a heavyweight of the ministry) visited Moscow to meet with Russian ambassador-at-large Oleg Burmistrov.


Even if North Korea were collapsed by a military action by the U.S., it would not lead to creating a unified Korea. Instead, it is highly possible that another regime after Kim Jong-Un would be created in north of 38th parallel.


The U.S., China and Russia would become engaged in a fierce tug of war over the control of the new regime. What would happen if the three countries decide the way to manage the new regime, leaving Japan out of loop? It would be just like the Yalta Conference among the UK, the U.S. and the Soviet in 1945 that decided the post-World War II structure.


Another “worst scenario” is that the U.S. would decide not to attack North Korea at the last moment and have a dialogue with North Korea.


When North Korea caused a nuclear crisis in 1993, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter made a lightning visit to the country to meet with then President Kim Il-Sung. The visit eventually led to creating the U.S.-North Korea framework agreement. Although Japan was left out the loop, Tokyo was only urged to provide financial assistance to the framework.


In the U.S., not a few lawmakers, particularly among the Democrats, call for having a dialogue with North Korea. Some even have said, “The U.S. should accept nuclear North Korea as long as the number of nuclear weapons is limited.”


President Donald Trump has criticized Washington’s past policy of dialogue with the DPRK, but the possibility of the president’s shifting to dialogue at the last moment cannot be ruled out. This is because President Trump takes the “America First” policy in which he puts the priority on the U.S. interests.


What if the president would make a deal with Kim Jong-Un in which North Korea would abandon its ICBM and hydrogen bombs – the largest threat to the U.S. – in exchange for Washington’s guarantee to keep the regime of Kim Jong-Un extant?


President Trump could even allow North Korea to possess a minimum number of nuclear weapons for its self-defense. If that includes Rodong short-range ballistic missiles, Japan would remain under threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile.


Given the fact that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump have trust relationship, the possibility is small that the U.S. would shift to a policy of dialogue without including Japan. Some left political forces in Japan criticize the Japan-U.S. alliance and argue that security legislation is unconstitutional. If such forces work together and take the majority in the upcoming general election, it would quickly cool down the Japan-U.S. relations. (Slightly Abridged)

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