To deter North Korea from taking any reckless action, it is necessary for the three countries of Japan, the United States and South Korea to cooperate closely on both the military and diplomatic planes.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera held talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young Moo in the Philippines. They issued a joint statement of the three countries, advocating the promotion of information sharing and of joint military drills to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat.
Onodera said, “In order to deter North Korea from taking provocative actions, it is important for Japan, the United States and South Korea to increase pressure on North Korea and transmit a strong message.” It is highly significant that the three countries have advocated their trilateral cooperation.
In September, North Korea pushed ahead with its sixth nuclear test. North Korea has seemingly increased the range of its ballistic missiles steadily, while enhancing its capability to arm them with nuclear and other weapons. Vigilance is needed against an unforeseen event.
In their separate talks, Onodera and Mattis agreed to reinforce such actions as joint operations of Aegis ships of both the Self-Defense Forces and U.S. forces. The two also confirmed bilateral cooperation regarding the operation of the U.S.-made, land-based Aegis ballistic missile defense system that Japan will introduce.
The United States will increase its military pressure on Pyongyang. For such activities as joint military drills with South Korea, the United States has deployed nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines and strategic bombers one after another in areas around the Korean Peninsula. They will effectively restrain North Korea.
Needless to say, however, Washington should not lean solely toward a military approach. The joint statement clearly said that the three countries will “actively cooperate to support diplomatic-led efforts [to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue] by applying maximum pressure on that nation,” emphasizing the importance of diplomatic efforts.
Coordinate Japan, U.S. policies
It is important to set up the conditions for a diplomatic solution through dialogue, by seeking cooperation from China and Russia, both of which have influence on North Korea, and stringently implementing sanctions resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.
Onodera also met one on one with China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan and with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and praised the two countries for approving resolutions for sanctions. In strengthening the international net encircling North Korea, it will be critical for China and Russia to rectify their conciliatory stance on Pyongyang.
In his speech at the meeting of defense ministers from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other concerned countries, Onodera indirectly criticized China regarding its maritime advance in the South China Sea, saying, “Any unilateral attempts to change the status quo pose a great risk to regional prosperity.”
Onodera reiterated his support for the U.S. forces’ conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea. He also indicated his intention for Japan to cooperate with coastal countries in the region, thus increasing its engagement.
In November, U.S. President Donald Trump will visit Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines for the first time since he took office.
The Japanese government should widely coordinate the Asian policies of Japan and the United States, including those related to North Korea. It is vital for both countries to divide their roles appropriately and pursue regional stability.