Former Minister of State for Financial Services Shizuka Kamei, 81, retired from politics before the House of Representatives election in October. He is planning to visit North Korea in the spring. He said he has told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about this plan. He argued that, “The important thing is to stop North Korea from firing nuclear missiles.”
Kamei said: “To avoid a military conflict, [North Korea] must not be provoked excessively, but (U.S. President) Trump might do something like that.”
In response to North Korea’s development of nuclear arms and its repeated provocations with missile launches, Japan and the U.S. are applying stronger pressure through economic sanctions. Kamei, who is alarmed that the worst-case scenario of a war may transpire, said that his planned visit to North Korea is his own attempt to find a way to start dialogue. He described his plan for his first visit to the DPRK as follows:
“I will visit South Korea to meet with President Moon Jae-in, the director of the National Intelligence Service, the chief presidential aide, and other top officials to ask for their assistance on the abduction issue and for the ROK’s cooperation with Japan to prevent North Korea from getting out of control.” I will go to North Korea subsequently. I will ask for the ROK’s mediation, and I also have my own connections. I am thinking of making the visit in February or March.”
He said he informed Abe about his plan when he visited the Kantei in early December.
“I told the prime minister: ‘You are the only person who can stop Trump from taking dangerous military actions.’ The prime minister also understands that very well. He said: ‘I need to do something about it.’”
What will be Kamei’s trump card for finding a solution when he goes to Pyongyang?
He said: “I probably won’t be able to meet with (Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman) Kim Jong Un, so I will have to negotiate with the No. 2 or No. 3 official and tell that person: ‘Return the abduction victims and stop your saber-rattling with missiles.’ I will propose that if North Korea complies, Japan will offer more substantial aid than what China or Russia is providing, and that ‘the prime minister has made that promise to me.’ As a matter of fact, the prime minister did tell me that. I will start with the abduction issue and bring up the nuclear and missile issues.”
While the mainstay of policy toward North Korea at present is “prodding it to abandon nuclear weapons through pressure,” such as in the form of UN Security Council resolutions, Kamei voiced a more realistic view.
“Regardless of how much Japan reinforces its defense capabilities, how can it make North Korea stop developing nuclear weapons? Since it is an independent state, even the United Nations cannot stop it, and it’s not possible to confiscate these weapons. The fact is it possesses nuclear arms right before Japan’s eyes. The question is how to stop it from using them. Rushing ahead to apply pressure could trigger an untoward incident. North Korea also needs to be rewarded (if it accepts our conditions).”
Kamei also argued that even though the basic assumption is that Japan will cooperate with the U.S., it is necessary to realize that the risk of an attack from North Korea is different for Japan and the U.S.
“Japan cannot shoot down all of North Korea’s missiles at its present level of defense capability, so once the launch button is pressed, that will be the end. On the other hand, nuclear missiles cannot reach the U.S. mainland right now; at least they won’t be able to hit the right targets. This is the decisive difference between Japan and the U.S., which is in the safe zone. While Japan has to cooperate with the U.S., it cannot possibly go along with it no matter what.”
Kamei is not only keen on resolving defense issues, but also the abduction issue. “Forty years have passed since the abduction issue was uncovered and 15 years have passed since some of the abductees were repatriated. No progress has been made in the negotiations during this time. This is an issue I must work on as a Japanese citizen, even though I have left the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and I am no longer a Diet member. I need to take action without being asked.”
He believes that the very fact that he is a private citizen means he has a role to play.
“There is a lot of talk about the North Korea crisis right now, but this serious problem has existed for a long time. I suppose the Foreign Ministry is working hard, but what it can do is limited because of the absence of diplomatic relations. That is where citizen-level diplomacy can help open the way. I think North Korea also wants to find an opportunity to engage in dialogue.” (Abridged)