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Outline on table for normalisation of Japan-North Korea ties

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In 2002, then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, agreeing to restart stalled talks on normalising relations. JIJI PRESS/AFP

Outline on table for normalisation of Japan-North Korea ties

Despite the threat it poses, Japan remains committed to normalising relations with North Korea, but with strict conditions.

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he is ready to meet face-to-face with Chairman Kim Jong-un without attaching any conditions. But at the moment, there is no concrete plan or date for the meeting,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said last week on condition of anonymity.

In a briefing, the ministry outlined four conditions under which Japan would consider normalisation.

First, Pyongyang must release the Japanese citizens that its agents abducted during the 1970s and 1980s. The ministry has identified 17 of its citizens as having been abducted but cannot rule out that 883 other missing persons – as of October 1, 2018 – suffered the same fate.

In October 2002, five of the abductees returned home after 24 years.

Second, North Korea must abandon its nuclear programme. Third, it must scrap its intercontinental ballistic missile programme. All nuclear and missile facilities must be dismantled.

Fourth, as pursuant to the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration signed in 2002 by then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the two nations must settle the “unfortunate past between them and the outstanding issues of concern [which] would be consistent with the fundamental interests of both sides, and would greatly contribute to the peace and stability of the region”.

Despite the conditions being laid out, a Ministry of Defence official maintained that North Korea poses a threat to Japan’s security.

“North Korea appears to be seeking to improve its ability to conduct surprise attacks by enhancing secrecy and instantaneity to make it difficult to detect signs of launch,” the official said in a briefing.

Japan is currently engaged in several territorial disputes with nearby countries.

These include the Senkaku Islands with China, which they call the Diaoyu islands; the Takeshima islands with South Korea, which they call Dokdo and the international community calls the Liancourt Rocks; and the Chishima islands with Russia, which they call the Kuril islands.

A Ministry of Defence official said the China Coast Guard intrudes into the Senkaku islands’ territorial waters – which extend 12 nautical miles (22.2km) – up to three times per month.

“China remains a big concern, but is not a threat, because China has strategic interests [with Japan], unlike North Korea. But we have to closely monitor China’s military activities,” the official said.

Hitoshi Tanaka, chairman of the Institute for International Strategy at the Japan Research Institute, last week said China’s repeated maritime intrusions could lead to war.

“If that happens, the US will not stand by looking. They will help Japan,” said Tanaka.

Bradley Jensen Murg, an assistant professor of Political Science and director of Global Development Studies at Seattle Pacific University, said China presents no immediate threat to Japanese security.

However, he said, China’s growing hegemony in the region and the fact that Japan is often cast in the role of “villain” in the narrative of state-led Chinese nationalism will certainly pose longer-term issues for Tokyo.

He said North Korea’s unpredictability together with its regular launches of missiles over Japanese airspace make Pyongyang a genuine, immediate term threat to Japan’s security.

“Unlike with China, institutionalised dialogue with North Korea remains relatively weak and any real instability [stemming from a confrontation with] the Kim regime could cause it to lash out militarily at Japan as a way to distract from internal issues,” Murg said.

He said the dispute over the Senkaku islands was a long-standing one and is relatively “cold”.

“The US government has previously stated that under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, Washington would be obligated to come to defend Japan in the event of military conflict over the Senkaku islands,” he said.

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