By Atsuhito Isozaki, associate professor of North Korean studies at Keio University
One of the notable findings of the Yomiuri-Hankook Ilbo joint opinion poll is the large percentage of pollees in both Japan and South Korea who gave the U.S.-DPRK summit high marks while only few in the two nations were optimistic about the complete denuclearization of North Korea. Even in South Korea, which appears to be moving headlong toward improving ties with its northern neighbor, many people took a dispassionate view on the issue of denuclearization.
The U.S.-DPRK summit would have been with doubt a historic first step if we viewed the matter based on the situation up through last year, when North Korea was repeatedly testing nuclear weapons and launching missiles. It is still too early to tell, though, if the meeting really was “a very large step.”
Based on past experience, many people are skeptical about how serious North Korea is. There is no need to take a pessimistic view at this point, but we should watch to see how the comprehensive agreement is fleshed out and how the United States and North Korea implement it.
Another notable finding in the poll is that the percentage of Japanese respondents who said that “dialogue should be prioritized to make North Korea abandon its nuclear and missile development programs” increased to the point where it is equal to the percentage recommending an emphasis on “pressure.”
North Korea itself promoted and then stopped the development of nuclear weapons and missiles. In the case of the abductions issue, however, Japan is the complete victim. It is understandable on an emotional level why in past polls most Japanese tended to recommend “pressure.”
Recently, though, the United States and South Korea have promoted dialogue with North Korea. In the recent poll, almost half of Japanese respondents thought realistic dialogue should be pursued even if there were some unfair aspects. This change in public opinion will lead to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s securing a free hand to embark on dialogue with North Korea.
Collaboration with South Korea is needed to address the North Korea issue. Outstanding issues between Japan and North Korea need to be resolved through talks between the parties. I would like to see the momentum toward dialogue lead to progress on the abductions issue.