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Learning from Japan (KOR)

May 04,2019
North Korea-Japan relations appear to be getting back on track. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday expressed a willingness to meet with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un for straightforward talks on pending issues. Before embarking on a trip to the United States next week, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also delivered to Pyongyang an intention to have some kind of high-level contact with North Korea in New York.

Abe desires to settle the decade-long abductee issue, above all, through a meeting with Kim. With his stepping down as prime minister scheduled for September 2022, Abe is showing a determination to revolve the issue within his term. But it was not easy for him to have dialogue with North Korea because that could have been seen as backpedaling on his hard-line stance on sanctions in close cooperation with the United States.

Abe’s announcement of a plan for a summit with Kim reflects approval from Washington. After a four-hour meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump last month, Washington agreed to help achieve a North Korea-Japan summit to resolve the abductee issue. That is in sharp contrast with the April 11 summit in which President Moon Jae-in had a two-minute one-on-one meeting with Trump in the White House even without issuing a joint statement.

Japan made full-fledged efforts to achieve the goal. It refrained from submitting a resolution on North Korean human rights to the United Nations for the first time in eleven years and deleted such tough expressions as “maximizing pressure on North Korea.” North Korea also felt a need to find a diplomatic breakthrough by taking advantage of Japan after the collapse of the Feb. 28 Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. If Kim tries to ease sanctions through a summit with Abe, he could emerge as a “new mediator” replacing President Moon.

Our government must learn from Japan. Tokyo was able to take a chance with Pyongyang thanks to its top priority in cooperation with Washington. Abe’s approach was totally different from Moon, who repeatedly called for an easing of sanctions without mentioning the “big deal” solution championed by Trump.

It is too early to expect a Japan-North summit soon. Our government must closely share information with the United States and Japan based on our solid alliance with Uncle Sam. At the same time, it must improve Seoul-Tokyo ties. If our relations with Japan were good, things would be working out differently.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 4, Page 30