Japan takes a hard line on PDRK (North Korea) deal
The PDRK (North Korea) has agreed to shut down the significant Yongbyon reactor in exchange for fuel and other economic aid. Japan’s nuclear sensitivities were reactivated when the PDRK fired a missile over its territory in 1998. Why is Japan taking a hard line on the nuclear issue and North Korea? What are the chances of the agreement sticking?
Nuclear weapons are a highly sensitive issue in Japan and the firing of a missile over Japan in 1998 was a deliberate and highly provocative act. With its abundance of missiles the regime in North Korea has made it clear that Japan is a potential target. The tensions between the two countries have historical origins. Japan colonized the whole of the Korean Peninsula and the consequences even in South Korea have not yet been fully worked through. Japan has no ambassador in the PDRK. The PDRK expects compensation in some form from the Japanese. Japan, on the other hand, has made a major issue of the fate of Japanese civilians, abducted by North Korea in the 1970s with the aim of indoctrination and subsequent employment as North Korean spies. Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, still holds that the abduction issue (admitted by North Korea in 2002) is still unresolved so long as the remaining abductees are not returned. Japan, according to Abe, will not help finance the present compromise on the nuclear issue. Some of his opponents think that the two issues should be treated separately.
Bush referred to the PDRK as part of the ‘axis of evil’. With present American problems in the Middle-East at the top of the political agenda, the tactic with respect to the PDRK has been to try and negotiate. China’s irritation with North Korea over the nuclear bomb test, and the subsequent economic pressure that it placed on the regime (directly and indirectly through the United Nations), provided the chance to re-focus the diplomatic initiative. The pressure from China, and the fact that United States continued to freeze some North Korean funds in an attempt to dissuade the regime from massive dollar counterfeiting activities, seems to have provided the diplomacy with effective leverage. China played a key role in getting the talks, suspended since November 2005, restarted.
What is the deal? The regime is to shut down, within sixty days, the Yongbyon reactor, and as a result the regime is to be given access to fuel aid and economic aid to the same value as the fuel aid. Japan has thus far refused to fund any of the energy or of the other aid that has been part of the deal. Japan’s refusal is, as I have said, linked to the issue of the abductees. The regime has also agreed to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as to make its current nuclear programs known to the wider world. The United States has agreed to bilateral talks with the PDRK (a key aim of the regime in North Korea and one that was psychologically important for its survival).
What are the chances of success? Some aspects of the current agreement have not been specified (at least not in public). How is the aid going to be paid for? Japan has linked any potential payment to the question of the abductees. Critics in Japan and in the United States were quick to point out that Kim Jong Il has a problem with keeping his word. Earlier agreements were abandoned. Make enough noise and you will be bribed into line is the tenor of the criticisms. Critics are quick to link the behavior of the PDRK (and the current response) to the strategy being pursued by Iran. What the United States hopes is that attention can now focus on Iran. As the agreement bites, the fear is that Kim Jong Il will become recalcitrant. However, China has already been severely irritated by its communist neighbor. China lost face and reacted by supporting UN sanctions. China will have no wish to be humiliated again. This is a significant check on potential actions. The regime has also gained what it longed for, which is a return to the Geneva Framework (hitherto a framework rejected by George W. Bush). This envisages dealing with the nuclear issue within a framework set by the normalization of relationships (essentially unresolved since the end of the Korean War) between the two countries.
It is now over to the leadership of the PDRK and of the United States. This is only the start of a process. It takes two to tango.