Japan, US Send Confusing Signals on Korea
by Tim Shorrock
Korea's apparent acquisition of nuclear weapons and its admission
last year that it had abducted scores of Japanese citizens over
the past two decades has transformed the political outlook of many
Japanese, driving even cautious diplomats to take positions further
to the right of the Bush administration.
was apparent at a recent Washington seminar on Korea, where Naoyuki
Agawa, the minister for public affairs and director of the Japan
Information and Culture Center at the Embassy of Japan, publicly
endorsed the concept of "regime change" in North Korea
as "ultimately the solution" for the nuclear crisis on
the Korean peninsula.
talks about it, but I think it's obvious," Agawa told the seminar
organized by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. "The question is
how soon. I don't think anybody's in a hurry to forcibly bring that
to take place, and therefore I think that the status quo will continue."
be sure, Agawa, who is a member of a US-Japan Strategic Study Group,
was speaking for himself and not the Japanese government. But his
open call for an overthrow of the Kim Jong Il regime in Pyongyang
show how deeply North Korea's recent behavior has touched Japan's
to Agawa, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, along with other
political parties, began to change their attitude towards the North
after it tested a ballistic missile over Japan three years ago and
admitted to the kidnapping charges during Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi's historic visit to Pyongyang in 2002.
the first time in 50 years, Japan has the fear of a clear and present
danger," he said. Many ordinary citizens now realize "that
one of their loved ones could be abducted from the coast."
pointed out that Takako Doi of Japan's Socialist Party, a historical
ally of North Korea, recently lost her bid for reelection as party
chair because she was identified with a faction that had denied
the abductions for many years.
some observers, Agawa's comments illustrate an alarming lurch toward
militarism in Japan and show how quickly Japan has forgotten its
own legacy in colonial Korea and its role as a US military supply
base during the Korean War.
views "reflects the Koizumi's government's stand, definitely,"
said John Feffer, a longtime Korea watcher and the author of North
Korea/South Korea: US Policy at a Time of Crisis recently
published in the United States by Seven Stories Press. "It's
unfortunate there's been such a rise in anti-North Korean feeling
sees a strong link between the government's positions on North Korea
and its attempts to change Japan's peace clause in the constitution
to allow Japanese military forces to participate in overseas conflicts,
such as the US war in Iraq. "The specter of a North Korean
attack is the only thing that can uproot Japan's deeply seeded pacifism,"
he said in a separate interview.
who has visited both North and South Korea, believes that calling
for regime change in North Korea is irresponsible because "there
are no alternatives. They have no idea what would replace it (the
Kim Jong IL regime)."
broached the idea after Ralph Cossa, a Korea specialist and president
of the Pacific Forum of the Canter for Strategic and International
Studies in Honolulu, provided a generally upbeat preview of the
upcoming six-party talks on ending the nuclear crisis.
talks, tentatively scheduled for December, include the United States,
South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan, all of whom want Pyongyang
to stop making weapons, and North Korea, which is seeking guarantees
of security and economic aid in exchange for any promise to disarm.
negotiations have been complicated by deep splits within the Bush
administration, which is constantly wavering between a hard-line
faction centered at the Pentagon, which would prefer to see the
problem disappear through the regime change sought by Agawa, and
a more pragmatic faction at the State Department, which sees no
choice but to negotiate.
President George W Bush, in a recent visit to Asia, made it clear
that he supports the latter course, which has been doggedly pursued
by Secretary of State Colin Powell. He has been represented at all
talks with North Korea by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly,
who was Cossa's predecessor at the Pacific Forum before taking his
lamented as "one of the saddest things in the conduct of US
foreign policy" the fact that when Powell announces something
as policy, skeptics question whether that is official policy even
after Bush endorses it. Instead, many suspect that when John Bolton,
a hardliner in the State Department who supports the Pentagon position
"opens his mouth, that's when the real George Bush speaks."
the real US credibility problem in Asia," said Cossa. "There's
a feeling that US foreign policy is in shambles."
that perception, said Cossa, many officials in both China and Japan,
key participants in the talks, believe that their relations with
the United States have "never been better." With both
countries pressing for an end to North Korea's nuclear program,
Cossa said a multilateral deal with North Korea is a likely outcome
of the talks.
"they will be rewarded," he added. "It's not a question
of if, but when." Cossa added that any such agreement must
be fully verified, and, as a prerequisite, "South Korea must
stand firm with North Korea."
dismissed liberal critics who say that Bush's hostile attitude toward
Pyongyang, as evidenced by his 2001 "axis of evil" speech,
was a key factor in the crisis that began a year ago when Kelly
confronted North Korea with evidence it was enriching uranium.
ultimate goal of pursuing nuclear weapons and the decision to cheat
not only on the Agreed Framework but also on the North-South 1992
denuclearization agreement and also on the International Atomic
Energy Agency and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments started
well before the Bush administration, and we're still dealing with
that," he said.
pointed out that key members of the Bush administration, including
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz,
were pushing for regime change in North Korea long before the uranium
revelations, adding that even the Central Intelligence Agency has
no concrete evidence of exactly what that program looks like.
harsh rhetoric coming out of the Pentagon and the people like Agawa
in Japan, Feffer said, is exactly why conservative Republicans in
Congress like Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania "want to strike
recently led a small, bipartisan delegation of US lawmakers to Pyongyang
and returned saying he believed a deal was in sight in which North
Korea would end its nuclear program in exchange for written guarantees
of its security.
Shorrock [send him mail]
is a freelance journalist based in Silver Spring, Maryland, who
specializes in U.S. foreign policy in Asia, Korea, and labor issues.
His writings have appeared in many publications at home and abroad.
© 2003 Inter Press Service