JAPAN MUST VALUE AMERICA AS TRUE ALLY, NOT GUARDIAN FOREVER
The situation on the Korean Peninsula has been marked by an extraordinary turn of events since earlier this year.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, fresh from his first summit with Chinese president Xi Jing-pin in Beijing March 26-27, flew to Dalian for yet another summit with Xi May 7-8. On May 14, reports that a high-ranking North Korean official was visiting Beijing—obviously to discuss a denuclearization of the peninsula and other critical issues prior to the Trump-Kim summit slated in Singapore for June 12—made headlines around the world.
North Korea today cannot function without advice and instructions from Beijing. Begged by Kim to save his neck, Xi “gave the wounded bird shelter,” as an old Chinese saying goes.
In late March, Mike Pompeo secretly flew to Pyongyang as CIA Director, visiting the North Korean capital again on May 9 as America’s newly appointed Secretary of State. He was all smiles as he successfully wound up his 13-hour visit, securing Kim’s commitment to a “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” of the peninsula and the release of three Korean-American hostages.
The previous day, Trump announced that he would withdraw the US from the Iranian nuclear deal. Then on May 14, he moved the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The strong will of White House national security advisor John Bolton is reflected in the recent series of tough American diplomatic moves.
In the meantime China is flexing its muscles, conducting the largest naval review in its history on April 12 in the South China Sea. Xi declared: “China’s need for a world-leading navy has never been more pressing than today,” urging his countrymen to make every effort to attain this ambitious goal.
Then on May 13, China performed sea trials with its first domestically-manufactured aircraft carrier, announcing plans to advance from 2020 to 2019 the scheduled commissioning of the ship.
In February, the US Senate unanimously approved the Taiwan Travel Act, enabling top American government officials and military personnel to visit Taiwan at will. One should view the series of Chinese actions as a demonstration of force to check America’s readiness to promote closer ties with Taiwan.
Against such a backdrop, Bolton kept delivering unmistakably clear messages to North Korea.
The Libya Model
Appearing on CBS (Face the Nation) and Fox News on April 29 and May 6 respectively, Bolton declared that the US is considering the Libya model to denuclearize North Korea—a format successfully employed in getting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to allow US and British intelligence experts into his nuclear facilities, resulting in three months in not only the complete dismantling of his nuclear program but the elimination of his missiles and chemical weapons as well.
During his summit with Xi in March and then with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom on April 27, Kim expressed his intention to pursue “phased” denuclearization, asserting his eagerness to secure economic assistance during the “phased” process. But Bolton’s remarks flatly rejected the dictator’s thinking.
Not only that. Bolton demanded that North Korea release Japanese and South Korean abductees along with three Korean-American hostages. As regards the hostages, Kim complied, as earlier mentioned, allowing Pompeo to fly back to the US with the trio.
Carol Morello, a Washington Post reporter permitted by the White House to accompany Pompeo to Pyongyang, explained the background of her trip in a report titled: “My journey to North Korea with the secretary of state” in the daily’s May 10 edition.
On May 4, she was told to get a new passport and be ready to depart on a moment’s notice. Three days later, on May 7, “with four hours’ notice, we were heading to Joint Base Andrews for what would be three legs of grueling flights stretched over almost 24 hours, with refueling stops in Alaska and Japan.” Aboard the flight were other passengers, including “a physician and a psychiatrist in addition to White House, State Department, and National Security Council staff,” she wrote.
On his second visit to Pyongyang, Pompeo sought to secure Kim’s commitment to a complete denuclearization and an immediate release of the hostages. Presumably, Bolton’s statements on April 29 and May 6 so horrified Kim that he hurried to see Xi in Dalian May 7-8.
As regards the second Xi-Kim summit, Yomiuri Shimbun correspondents Takayuki Nakagawa and Kentaro Nakajima reported in the daily’s May 14 edition that Kim sounded out Xi’s feelings about “whether would be possible for North Korea to receive Chinese assistance at interim stages of denuclearization.” To this, Xi allegedly replied that it would be possible “if an agreement on a complete denuclearization can be reached between Trump and Kim.”
The correspondents also reported that Kim voiced his doubt that “the US would honor its pledge for economic assistance to North Korea once a complete denuclearization comes true.”
The Yomiuri reports indicate that Kim, promised Chinese assistance in Dalian, decided to talk to Pompeo virtually under Chinese directives immediately after his talks with Xi. The remarks Pompeo made on Fox News on May 13 amply reflect the frame of mind of Trump administration officials now that Pyongyang has accepted Washington’s demand for a complete denuclearization. Chris Wallace, the host of the show, put the following question to Pompeo:
“You said that if Chairman Kim chooses the right path, there is a future brimming with peace and prosperity for the North Korean people. What did you mean by that?”
Pompeo replied that he was talking about private-sector investments, not the US tax-payers’ money, helping build the energy grid in North Korea, explaining:
“They need enormous amounts of electricity in North Korea, to work with them to develop infrastructure. All the things that the North Korean people need, the capacity of American agriculture to support North Korea so they can eat meat and have healthy lives…”
Difference between Heaven and Hell
On the same day, Bolton said on CNN’s State of the Union program:
“…the prospect for North Korea is unbelievably strong, if they’ll commit to denuclearization…It can become a normal nation with a bright future if it develops normal relations with the world like South Korea.”
Bolton emphasized that the US is after a full denuclearization—“complete, verifiable, and irreversible”—stressing: “Clearly, the ballistic missiles program, as with Iran, with the intention of being a delivery system for nuclear weapons—that’s gotta go. I think we need to look at their chemical and biological weapons programs as well. The President’s going to raise other issues, the Japanese abductees, South Korean citizens who were kidnapped…”
Bolton and Pompeo employed slightly different expressions, but from their remarks one can discern a broad outline of what the US, North Korea, and China are after at this juncture. As Pyongyang promises Washington a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Beijing slips in adroitly to stand behind Pyongyang. While it demands that North Korea follow in the difficult footsteps of the Libya model, the US will find it increasingly difficult to resort to a military option should North Korea employ delaying tactics thanks to China’s intervention or mediation.
It is only natural for the US and other members of the international community to stringently monitor if any future Chinese assistance would violate the UN resolution on sanctions against North Korea, but we can expect China to stand by North Korea’s side come rain or shine.
In the past, compromises have usually been made at this stage of the game. How about this time? The US and China are diametrically opposite to each other when it comes to values and directions. How they deal with the international community is as different as Heaven is from Hell. In light of the complex issues facing Japan, whether that be Taiwan, the South and East China Seas, or the North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens, maintaining a close alliance with the US unquestionably is our best choice.
But we Japanese must remember that America is not Japan’s guardian. As a sovereign state that shares democratic values with the US, Japan must continue endeavoring to work closely with its valued Pacific ally, but must understand that we can never totally rely on the US, as we have in the past. A failure to come to grips with this reality could very well prove disastrous.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 803 in the May 24, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)