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Editorial: Japan, S. Korea, U.S. must rebuild unity to blunt N. Korea’s nukes

A Korean Peninsula without nuclear arms should be an unshakable goal for efforts to build peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

 

Japan, the United States and South Korea must have a deep sense of the importance of this goal and align their North Korean policies accordingly.

 

Senior security policy officials of the three countries recently held talks in the United States for the first high-level security meeting under the trilateral framework since Joe Biden took office.

 

The officials discussed the Biden administration’s ongoing work to map out a new U.S. policy toward Pyongyang.

 

After the talks, the three nations issued a joint statement saying they shared concerns about North Korea’s programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles and reaffirmed their commitment to tackling the challenge “through concerted trilateral cooperation toward denuclearization.”

 

The stronger their unity in dealing with Pyongyang, the greater the pressure felt by North Korea.

 

While it is good to see the three governments reaffirm this obvious fact, it should be noted that security cooperation among them has been nothing but an empty slogan in recent years.

 

In addition to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s unpredictable diplomacy style, the deeply strained relationship between Tokyo and Seoul has hampered their policy coordination.

 

In the meantime, the North has continued developing weapons, making the security situation in the region even more dangerous. The Biden administration’s policy of placing importance on U.S. alliances should serve as an effective catalyst for the three countries to rebuild their unity.

 

It is only natural that the joint statement refers to “denuclearization” as a key goal. Recently, some experts, including former Obama administration officials, have argued that demanding nuclear arms control by North Korea would be a more realistic approach than pressing Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program altogether.

 

That is out of the question.

 

The Biden administration should pursue a comprehensive arms reduction strategy also involving Russia and China. From this point of view as well, the denuclearization of Northeast Asia including the Korean Peninsula is an essential policy goal.

 

The Biden White House should thrash out a responsible security policy to achieve a long-term peaceful order in the the Asia-Pacific region while maintaining the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

 

To enhance the trilateral security cooperation, Seoul should also think carefully about its own policy. Immediately after the three-way security talks in the United States, South Korea’s foreign minister met his Chinese counterpart in the southern Chinese city of Xiamen.

 

The meeting clearly signals Seoul’s intention to strike a “balance” in its relations with the United States and China.

 

China, however, has been the principal patron of North Korea. When North Korea test-fired ballistic missiles last month, the U.N. Security Council was unable to make a strong response due to resistance from China and Russia. China is also poised to restart suspended trade with the North.

 

Beijing’s move to invite the South Korean foreign minister to visit China should be seen as a tactic to send a message to Washington and undermine the trilateral framework for security policy cooperation.

 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in probably wants to promote North-South dialogue. But support to the North not based on solid principles cannot lead to a fundamental solution to the fraught security situation in the region.

 

Seoul should keep its foreign and security policy solidly anchored by the three-nation framework for cooperation.

 

The Japanese government also has the responsibility to make its own efforts to improve the security situation in the region.

 

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration failed to make any significant achievement in this respect because it only followed Washington’s lead while being at the mercy of Trump’s whimsical ideas.

 

Tokyo needs to lay out its own new policy visions for improving its ties with Seoul and building healthy and peaceful relations with the entire Korean Peninsula and then discuss them with both the United States and South Korea.

 

–The Asahi Shimbun, April 6

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