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Editorial: Japan needs a sound strategy for dealing with North Korea

  • March 18, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:50 p.m.
  • English Press

Japan’s relationship with North Korea is fraught with knotty history-related issues and tensions stemming from the security threats posed by the reclusive country’s arms programs.


That makes it all the more important for Japan to deal with North Korea under a consistent and coherent diplomatic strategy.


The government has decided not to sponsor a U.N. resolution criticizing Pyongyang’s human rights record this year in a break from 11 consecutive years of taking the action.


Japan has been consistently demanding that North Korea take steps to resolve the issue of its past abductions of Japanese citizens through these resolutions. Tokyo has decided to change tack to extract a positive stance toward this issue from Pyongyang, according to the government.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be betting that North Korea will seek to mend its ties with Japan after the breakdown of the recent summit meeting between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and U.S. President Donald Trump.


But signs coming from Pyongyang show the opposite. North Korean media have vehemently criticized Abe for having attempted to thwart the success of the summit.


It is hard to believe that Japan’s decision to avoid sponsoring the resolution will persuade North Korea to change its attitude.


Instead of making makeshift responses to the situation, the Japanese government needs to act swiftly to prepare itself strategically for full-scale official talks with the Kim regime.


The Abe administration’s policy toward North Korea has been rigid and tactless.


Abe has repeatedly said what is needed to deal with North Korea is not dialogue but pressure and focused single-mindedly on sanctions against the country.


The Trump administration also used the pressure strategy for a certain period of time but has actually kept the door open for dialogue behind the scenes.


Washington has coordinated its diplomatic efforts with South Korea, which has been leading in holding talks with the North, and managed to realize two summits between Trump and Kim.


In contrast, Japan has so far failed even to get a foothold to start making diplomatic moves to open the door to dialogue with North Korea.


There is no prospect for any early progress on the abduction issue, which tops Tokyo’s diplomatic agenda concerning its relationship with Pyongyang.


The Japanese government should finally start adopting a more active diplomatic stance toward dialogue with North Korea through cooperation with both the United States and South Korea.


The Abe administration’s abrupt decision to skip sponsoring the U.N. resolution is also questionable from the viewpoint of the principles of diplomatic integrity.


It could be seen as an act of using the issue of human rights, which are universal values, for political maneuvering.


North Korea’s human rights record has been dismal. In addition to its past abductions of Japanese citizens, the country has committed many flagrant human rights violations, including the mistreatment of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. college student who was released in 2017 in a comatose state after being imprisoned in the country for more than a year and died soon afterward.


The Japanese government has sponsored U.N. resolutions to denounce North Korea’s human rights violations for many years to support and share the international community’s commitment to human rights.


The resolutions Japan has submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council since 2008 have been co-sponsored with the European Union. The EU is expected to sponsor such a resolution again this year.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at his March 13 news conference that the decision concerning the resolutions was made “after comprehensively considering the result of the (February) summit between the United States and North Korea as well as various circumstances surrounding the abduction issue.”


The administration should clearly explain the reasons for the decision to the public.


If the Japanese government changes its diplomatic stance toward North Korea in a haphazard way, Pyongyang could unjustly take advantage of its inconsistency.


Japan should pursue a multi-pronged diplomatic strategy in dealing with the North by seeking to open dialogue with the country without compromising its commitment to universal values such as human rights.


–The Asahi Shimbun, March 17

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