By Mitoji Yabunaka, visiting professor at Ritsumeikan University
The U.S.-North Korea summit, with its images of two leaders shaking hands after just recently trading barbs, sent shock waves. The images gave the impression that a new era has arrived. The summit was absolutely “historic” as it gave the world hope or illusion that there will be a seismic shift in security issues in East Asia.
But examination of the joint statement shows that the words “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization (CVID)” are not included. Further, the statement is short on specifics and lacks novelty. I believe working-level officials strove to produce a convincing statement right up until the summit but failed to do so. In addition, the boss (U.S. President Donald Trump) himself might have insisted that what is important is to “build a bond between leaders” and decided to eschew the aforementioned words. From my own experience as a working-level official, I can say that it is hard work to flesh out the details of points the leaders paint in broad strokes. “The maximum pressure” campaign has become a thing of the past, the U.S.’s joint military exercises with South Korea have been suspended, and a military option is not on the table anymore. Under these conditions it may be next to impossible to persuade North Korea to completely denuclearize.
Nevertheless, concrete actions for denuclearization need to start. The trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting between Japan, the U.S., and South Korea held on June 14 was the first step. It is reported that “Japan and South Korea will bear” the costs of the North’s denuclearization. This clarifies that Japan is an involved party. Japan should not leave the matter to the U.S. but should join future negotiations for denuclearization as a necessary party. Japan, the U.S., and South Korea will be at the center of the issue for the time being. But there will be a need for a venue where the six parties concerned, including China and Russia, can meet down the road.
As for the abduction issue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe thanked President Trump for bringing up the issue at the U.S.-North Korea summit. But the issue should not have been on the “agenda” of the U.S.-North Korea talks in the first place. The issue should be discussed between Japan and North Korea. Thanks to President Trump, who during the summit paved the way for talks between Japan and the DPRK, Pyongyang will not be able to maintain the existing stance of insisting that the issue “has been resolved.” The North’s previous investigations were way too sloppy and far from convincing the families of Japanese abductees.
Prime Minister Abe has also begun to say that “Japan will also hold a summit with North Korea,” though much remains to be done to realize such a meeting. So channels for talks should be opened up at an early stage and North Korea is urged to reinvestigate in a sincere manner. Japan does not need to soften its stance that “economic assistance is nonnegotiable unless the abduction issue is resolved.” I sincerely hope that this time North Korea will conduct a serious investigation and tell the truth for the sake of the early return of the abductees.
If that happens, negotiations for diplomatic normalization based on the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration will be accelerated and economic assistance, including not-strings-attached financial aid and humanitarian support, will be provided as Japan indicated in the declaration along with feelings of deep remorse over its past colonial rule. The declaration already sets out a course [for negotiations.] So Japan only needs to proceed with normalization in line with the objectives of the declaration.
However, everything is determined at the discretion of the boss (Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un) in North Korea. So we should realize that the DPRK is a country for which maneuvering through normal diplomacy falls flat. This makes summit-level talks even more important. I believe the priority is to create an environment that enables Japan and North Korea to hold a summit at an early date.