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Abe’s diplomacy for Osaka G20 (2) / A time to be patient for dialogue with North Korea

This is the second installment in this series.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time on April 25 in Vladivostok, Russia.


“Chairman Kim Jong Un asked me to inform the U.S. side of his position on denuclearization,” Putin said at a press conference after the meeting. And he revealed his intention to talk with U.S. leaders.


Kim Jong Un has been actively holding summit meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Of the countries that participated in the six-party talks which dealt with the problem of North Korea’s nuclear materials and missiles, it is only Japan that has yet to take part in a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un.


“I myself will face up to Kim Jong Un to resolve the issues.”


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly expressed his desire to talk directly with a North Korean leader, with a view of resolving issues such as the abductions of Japanese nationals. He declared the same intention during the Japan-U.S. summit meeting on April 26, where Trump promised him thorough cooperation on the issue.


Abe has also been sending repeated signals to bring North Korea to the bargaining table.


Japan decided not to submit a resolution regarding human rights violations by North Korea at the session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in March. Japan has submitted similar resolutions jointly with the European Union every year since 2008. The decision was based on the prime minister’s desire to boost the possibility of dialogue.


When the government released its 2019 Diplomatic Bluebook in April, any expression of “maximizing pressure on Pyongyang” was dropped.


“We have no intention of opposing the normalization of diplomatic relations.”


This message for Kim Jong Un was adopted at a February joint meeting of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea and the support organization National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea. The message was unusual, and the groups’ hardline stance toward North Korea is not visible. But they adopted it because Abe had persuaded them to do so.


However, the view throughout the Japanese government is that “North Korea does not look responsive to the idea of a meeting.”


“Japan can never steer clear of standing international isolation, its will notwithstanding if keeps going idiot, stupid and senseless.”


On April 18, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency made statements criticizing Japan, denouncing Foreign Minister Taro Kono for asking for the thoroughgoing implementation of sanctions resolutions against North Korea at the Group of Seven foreign ministerial meeting.


In September 2002, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited North Korea, meeting with then leader Kim Jong Il. This was the first ever Japan-North Korea summit meeting, and it happened at a time when U.S.-North Korea relations were at their worst, after U.S. President George W. Bush labeled North Korea as part of “the axis of evil.”


“Pyongyang is ready for a dialogue with the United States,” was the message that Kim Jong Il asked Koizumi to relay to Bush.


North Korea has always been mindful of the United States, which holds the key to allowing the Kim family to maintain its regime. Although the second U.S.-North Korean summit, held in Hanoi in February, ended unsuccessfully, Trump has not ruled out a third. Now that opportunities to talk with the United States are available, it would seem to mean little if North Korea were to make an approach to Japan.


The Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June will bring together the leaders of many major economies.


Abe wants to promote an understanding about the denuclearization of North Korea among other leaders through individual discussions and other meetings.


Abe regards the abductions issue as the “starting point” of his politicial life. He has positioned it as his most important Cabinet issue and plans to tenaciously continue working to influence North Korea.


“North Korea will eventually seek Japanese economic cooperation.”


Although government officials unanimously say this is so, a path to this goal not yet visible, so Japan must remain patient.


Environment created for starting talks

By Hajime Izumi / Tokyo International University Professor


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed his willingness to normalize Japan-North Korea relations, including a resolution of the abductions issue. Neither the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea nor the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea is against this. This is epoch-making in the sense that we now have an environment in which negotiations could begin at any time.


However, the second U.S.-North Korean summit broke down, and negotiations are not likely to start immediately. At the earliest, the third summit might take place this summer, just before the U.S. presidential election process goes into full swing.


Japan should discuss with the United States the problem of Rodong medium-range ballistic missiles, and come up with the definition to a solution. The Rodong issue is one of the large specific problems for Japan, on par with the abductions. Without the specific conditions of a solution being indicated, negotiations with North Korea may not go well. It is important to confirm a policy with solutions to these specific problems, or there will be neither a normalization of relations nor large-scale economic cooperation.

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