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I. Japanfs engagement with the Democratic Peoplefs Republic of Korea (DPRK) after the end of the Cold War

1. Inception of North Koreafs outreach to Japan and its pattern of behavior

(1) The discontinuance of the half-century of Cold War prompted the Kim Il Sun regime to embark upon new diplomatic initiatives to secure security guarantee and economic assistance for its survival. In a post-Cold War environment in which North Korea found herself isolated, notably from the former USSR and China, it was a natural course of action for the DPRK leadership to approach Japan with the express intent to obtain financial and material assistance, given the historical fact that the then faltering economy of South Korea had considerably benefited from the normalization of relations between Japan and South Korea, realized in 1965.


(2) It is to be pointed out that North Koreafs overtures toward Japan had achieved at that time a considerable success in getting the Government of Japan engaged with the North toward rapprochement. A close scrutiny of Pyongyangfs diplomatic moves, however, reveals its intrinsic pattern of behavior towards Japan, which continues up to today. The following distinctive characteristics of negotiating pattern are noted: First, Pyongyang attempts without exception to secure maximum material compensation by overly emphasizing colonial apologies while dismissing entirely Japanese counterdemands for addressing the nuclear concern and abduction issues. Second, while avoiding official channels, North Korea shows an expressed preference for a party- to-party approach to move the normalization talks. Finally, the North makes a heinous use of either hostage situations or abduction cases to influence the normalization process.


2. The launching of normalization talks

(1) The DPRKfs first attempt to start normalization talks with Japan at the end of the Cold War was primarily motivated by its dire macroeconomic situation brought about by the annulment of Soviet and Chinese preferential treatment and the disintegration of the geopolitical alliance system. The Kim Il Sung regime had made an adroit party-to-party approach to Japan in 1990, successfully bringing to Pyongyang a bi-partisan parliamentary delegation from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Socialist Party (SP), led by the then LDP strongman Kanemaru Shin. In order to induce Kanemaru to come to North Korea, Pyongyang hinted at the possible release of the crew of the 18th Fujisanmaru(1) imprisoned at that time and let Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) make an effective unofficial demarche to SP and LDP. The North Korean initiatives were rewarded by the issuance of a tripartite communique, involving North Koreafs Workers Party and Japanfs LDP and SP, which announced, inter alia, an agreement to urge the two Governments to launch normalization talks.


(1) North Korea captured the crew of the 18th Fujisanmaru, a cargoship, in the port of Nampo in November 1983, accused them of spying, and in December 1985 sentenced them to 15 years of hard labor.


(2) Eight rounds of negotiations were held between Japan and the DPRK from January 1991 to November 1992 without achieving any results. In the course of protracted negotiations, insurmountable difficulties were encountered in the areas of basic legal issues, nuclear issues and economic and humanitarian questions. Rather unexpectedly, the eighth round of negotiations in November 1992 came to an abrupt halt when the Japanese side continued to press hard with the notorious abduction case of eLee Un-hef, a pseudonym for a young Japanese woman abducted and involved in the linguistic training of a North Korean female agent who, together with her male colleague, succeeded in 1987 in destroying a KAL passenger plane en route to Seoul, and the DPRK delegation suddenly left the negotiation table without explanation.


(3) It follows from the above-mentioned negotiating experiences that at the time of the last round of negotiations, Japanfs continued insistence on the abduction case apparently had made the North Korean leadership feel serious constraints on the continuation of negotiations and Pyongyang had decided instead to seek rapprochement with the United States, thus abandoning temporarily the idea of obtaining economic rewards from Japan.


3. Resumption of negotiations in 2000

(1) Until April 2000, there were no formal negotiations between Japan and the DPRK except occasional party-to-party contacts as well as government officialsf sporadic encounters realized in various capitals in a strictly unofficial manner. It was after the passing of seven years and a half that the resumption of normalization talks was finally made possible in April 2000, largely thanks to the dispatch of a multi-party parliamentary mission to Pyongyang in December 1999, headed by the former Socialist Prime Minister Murayama, and also to the Japanese Governmentfs hint that it would provide food aid.


(2) Throughout the year 2000, three rounds of negotiations were conducted without producing any concrete results. Japan approached the October 2000 round of normalization talks with the determination to achieve a breakthrough. In advance of the October talks, the Government of Japan even announced a contribution of 500,000 tons of rice to the North, in an apparent attempt to grease the wheels. Despite Japanese hopes of ending the year 2000 with some progress, the DPRK continued its intransigence and dashed all such aspirations. It is to be noted in this connection that Pyongyang was at that time clearly abstaining from any commitment with Japan, in view of possible rapprochement with the United States through a U.S. Presidential visit.


(3) In the process of three rounds of negotiations, Japan and North Korea laid out their terms of negotiation, from positions that appeared almost irreconcilable. The Japanese side emphasized, reflecting strong public opinion, the criticality of resolving the abduction issue and made a demand for addressing the ballistic missile threat while DPRK negotiators firmly entrenched themselves in a immovable negotiating position, demanding apologies over the colonial past and financial compensation and dismissing in toto Japanese counterdemands on the abduction issue and missile concerns.


(4) The normalization talks during the year 2000 had elucidated the following points: First, the abduction issue constitutes, among others, an impediment to normalization talks. Second, occasional disbursements of food aid are now seen as goodwill gestures to bring the North to the table. In other words, material quid pro quos are clearly set in the Japan-DPRK negotiation context. Third, the North has recognized the issue of homecomings for the Japanese spouses of DPRK citizens as a useful new bargaining chip. This particular issue is politically important for Japan and relatively costless for the DPRK. Lastly, at the second round of normalization talks in August 2000, the North seems to have indicated an implicit acceptance of a formula on the issue of colonial compensation, proposed by the Japanese side that following the model of the 1965 Basic Agreement with South Korea, Japan would offer economic aid in lieu of historical compensation.

II. Prime Minister Koizumifs visits to the DPRK and subsequent engagement process

1. Koizumifs first visit

(1) Prime Minister Koizumifs visit to Pyongyang on September 17, 2002 was an unprecedented diplomatic overture in Japanfs post-Cold War diplomacy. Hiramatsu Kenji, one of the negotiators who had participated in the preparatory negotiations with the North Korean side for Koizumifs visit, states in an article(2), gthe negotiations were conceived as an extension of previous diplomatic overtures and based on the lessons learned in the pasth, and further points out, gfollowing the instructions of the prime minister and foreign minister, the Japanese negotiators aimed first to clarify the fundamental principles upon which Japan would proceed, and to convey these principles in no uncertain terms to their North Korean counterpartsh and gJapan was prepared to work in good faith toward normalization of bilateral relations; it hoped North Korea would in turn take earnest steps toward resolving abduction, security and other issues of concern to Japan and Japan would not proceed with negotiations if, in particular, the abduction issue was not addressed.h It should be noted here that the preliminary negotiating process this time was unprecedented in Japanese diplomacy since it was unmediated by outside parties.


(2) Premier Koizumifs visit had culminated in the signing of the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration with Chairman Kim Jong Il, which aimed at the goal of establishing a platform for resolving outstanding issues and breaking the deadlock in bilateral negotiations. What was particularly noteworthy was the fact that in this Joint Declaration, North Korea had accepted not only Japanfs apology for her colonial rule but also a settlement package similar to that agreed upon with South Korea in 1965, in lieu of its demand for reparations for Japanfs colonization of Korea.


(2) gGAIKO FORUMh English Edition Winter 2003 Vol.2, No.4 gLead up to the Signing of the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declarationh By HIRAMATSU Kenji, p.21


(3) At the Pyongyang Summit, Chairman Kim Jong Il had acknowledged the abductions as fact, denounced them as a regrettable relic of the past, expressed his wish to apologize and promised to prevent further abductions. It seemed that the North Korean leadership had felt Chairman Kimfs acknowledgement of the abductions would clear the way for the normalization of relations. This has not proved the case. The admission of guilt and particularly the revelation that eight of the thirteen abductees had died outraged the Japanese public, making the mass media throughout Japan react with indignation.


(4) One determining factor leading to the holding of the Summit meeting was the United States Governmentfs hardened stance towards Pyongyang after the September 11 terrorist attacks, causing very grave concern for its regime survival. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Pyongyang was prompted to make overtures to Japan, which it believes has the best rapport with Washington in East Asia, with the expectation that Japan would serve as a politico-diplomatic shield against an imminent U.S. threat. Another factor accounting for the Northfs determination to reengage with Japan was its chronic economic conditions, worsened by economy policy changes introduced in July 2002 that led to an enormous jump in the price level and a possible high inflation in the absence of a huge injection of capital and goods.


(5) Koizumifs abrupt visit to Pyongyang seemed at first to open up a new era in Japan-North Korea relations and engage the two countries towards much awaited normalization. As was pointed out above, however, the animosity toward North Korea as a consequence of Chairman Kimfs confession of the kidnapping converged with sharp fear when Pyongyang acknowledged in October 2002 the enriched uranium program. The negative fall-out of the kidnapping admission and the nuclear confession completely derailed the Japan-North Korean normalization process. It was, therefore, clearly evident that the 12th round of negotiations, which took place in October 2002 in compliance with the Pyongyang Declaration, was bound to fail from the start.

2. Koizumifs second visit

Prime Minister Koizumifs second visit to Pyongyang realized in May 2004 had met with an unfavorable reception in Japan. His return was apparently motivated by the political circumstances prevailing at that time, calling for an early solution to the remaining abduction issues, in view of an impasse in the negotiation process at official level. Koizumifs visit was prepared through political contacts in such a manner as was reminiscent of Kim Il Sunfs early overtures to Japan at the end of the Cold War. The only tangible result brought about by Koizumifs second visit was Kim Jong Ilfs agreement to release the members of the abducted families, who had been practically kept as hostages, in exchange for Japanfs commitment to offer 250,000 tons of food and 10 million dollars worth of medical supplies.

III. Japanfs role to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula

1. Needless to say, the problem of the Korean Peninsula is primarily a matter between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea, while it is to be emphasized that a preponderant factor bearing on North Koreafs security is its amelioration of relationship with the United States. It is abundantly clear that any progress in U.S.-DPRK relations is dependent on Pyongyangfs willingness to deal squarely with all relevant issues, inter alia, nuclear and missile issues.


2. The significance of the normalization of the relationship between Japan and North Korea is not limited to the two countries themselves. Normalization of relations, when achieved, will be definitely a very positive contributing factor in the building of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and subsequently throughout Northeast Asia.

3. Prime Minister Koizumifs first visit seemed at the outset to have achieved a diplomatic breakthrough toward the normalization of the two countries. Without any shadow of doubt, Chairman Kim Jong Ilfs exercise of diplomacy by confession on the abduction issue was strongly motivated by his imperative to secure vast economic resources from Japan to rebuild his failing economy, the reconstruction of which is a sine qua non for his emilitary-firstf government. Paragraph two of the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration states: gBoth sides shared the recognition that, providing economic co-operation after the normalization by the Japanese side to the DPRK side, including grant aids, long-term loans with low interest rates and such assistances as humanitarian assistance through international organizations, over a period of time deemed appropriate by both sides, and providing other loans and credits by such financial institutions as the Japan Bank for International Co-operation with a view to supporting private economic activities, would be consistent with the spirit of this Declaration, and decided that they would sincerely discuss the specific scales and contents of the economic co-operation in the normalization talks.h As is made so explicit in the above-cited Declaration, economic cooperation from Japan will be made possible only after the normalization of bilateral relations is achieved.


4. The fact that normalization talks are at present completely stalled shows that North Korea does not seem, under the present international geopolitical circumstances, in a hurry to seek accommodation with Japan by using its abduction card, i.e. offering a comprehensive solution to the whole of the abduction issue. Pyongyangfs volte-face in the policy priority setting from Tokyo to Washington should be understood in the context that it believes there will be no immediate breakthrough in the stalled bilateral negotiations in view of the highly negative public opinion against the DPRK widely prevailing in Japan.


5. In the absence of substantive progress in the abduction talks, Japanese public opinion continues to mount its critical tone against North Korea, now urging the Government to unilaterally impose economic sanctions on that country. Succumbing to a mounting public outcry, the Japanese Diet has passed of late a law to revise the existing Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law and a Port Call Prohibition Bill. Although the Japanese Government has not yet yielded to the increasing public pressure, it, however, is quietly enforcing a revised rule to the Law on Liability for Oil Pollution Damage introduced in March, requiring all foreign ships of 100 tons or more to carry protection and indemnity insurance to cover costs from oil spills or running aground. The new regulation is applicable to all vessels, irrespective of flags, and yet it is widely seen as a way to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang to resolve the abduction issue.


6. Finally, attention should be paid to the statement made during bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Six-Party Talks held in February 2004 by Kim Kye Gwan, the North Korean vice foreign minister, to his Japanese counterpart Yabunaka Mitoji that gprogress in the abduction issue is correlated with the nuclear issue and U.S. relationsh (The Asahi Shimbun, February 27, 2004). This statement clearly explains the present stalled state of affairs between the two countries. In conclusion, it is to be pointed out here again that Japanfs contribution in terms of economic cooperation to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula is contingent upon a definite resolution of nuclear issues and resultant improvement of U.S.-DPRK relations.




KAJIMA INSTITUTE of INTERNATIONAL PEACE