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발간자료 The Korean Peninsula Peace Process and Japan's Diplomacy (2018-2019) Revisited: Analysis and Assessment 윤석정 일본연구센터 연구교수 작성일 2021-02-03 조회수 259
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The peace process on the Korean peninsula, launched with the aim of establishing peace on the peninsula and denuclearizing North Korea had picked up speed with the North's participation in the 2018 the Pyeongchang Olympics.  The Olympics-driven rapprochement facilitated inter-Korean dialogue, and the two Koreas adopted the Panmunjom Declaration on April 27, 2018 - a historic document that committed both sides to work toward  "complete denuclearization." 

Inter-Korean dialogue served as a starting point for talks between the U.S. and North Korea, and at the 2018 North Korea–United States Singapore Summit, held on June 12, President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un signed a joint statement agreeing to the complete denuclearization. But  at second summit meeting between the two leaders in February 2019, the two failed tho bridge the gap over the scope of North Korea's denuclearization in exchange for U.S. corresponding measures. President Trump rejected North Korea's offer to dismantle its prominent Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed on North Korea since 2016. The U.S.-North Korea nuclear talks remain deadlocked since then. 

Japan came up with two stances in response to the rapid unfolding of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. For starters, the Japanese government insisted that denuclearization measures should come first before North Korea receives compensation. Japan wanted to keep sanctions intact until North Korea takes specific actions to achieve Complete, Verifiable and Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID) of its nuclear program as well as of its missiles regardless of maximum range.  At the same time, Japan sought to hold an unconditional summit meeting with North Korea, citing the “Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration”under which North Korea agreed to fulfill its commitments regarding its nuclear program, address the abduction of Japanese citizens and pursue bilateral negotiations toward normalization. 

A closer look at Japan’s diplomacy from 2018 to 2019 - when the peace process on the Korean peninsula was underway - reveals that the Japanese government’s "denuclearization  first, then compensation" approach had left it with limited options like expressing its willingness to hold summit talks and provide economic assistance. As a result, Japan’s firm stance on sanctions imposed against North Korea stood out in particular, dwarfing other options it had, and the country failed to arrange a summit meeting with North Korea accordingly. It is possible to point out North Korea's hard-line stance toward Japan as a reason for not holding the Japan-North Korea summit. But  Japan’s failure to strike a right balance between maintaining its stance on sanctions and creating a momentum for dialogue may also have played a part. 

Moreover, Japan showed greater interest in North Korea's short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles than South Korea and the United States. For instance, when U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed North Korea’s short-range missile tests carried out on May 4th and 9th, 2019, and only made the regime’s ICBM tests as a priority, Japan was concerned that the U.S. might set aside North Korea's short and intermediate-range ballistic missile issue that could pose a threat to Tokyo. Pyongyang’s testing of short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles is an issue rarely discussed in inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea talks, suggesting that Japan's priority is different from that of the U.S. and South Korea when it comes to dealing with North Korea. 

South Korea and Japan starkly diverged on their interpretation of North Korea’s promise made at the Singapore Summit to denuclearize, as well as on the matter of lifting sanctions imposed on the regime. As the two sides remained at odds over such issues, they ruled out the possibility of working together and eventually failed to create a synergy between Inter-Korean cooperation and Japan’s efforts to open dialogue with the North. 

Conflicts between South Korea and Japan had taken concrete shape after the Singapore summit. Japan pointed out that the summit joint statement lacks a great deal of detail on denuclearization, and Seoul and Tokyo offered divided views on North Korea’s pledge to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Korea and Japan, owing to these stark differences, even went further to engage in a diplomatic spat over the issue of lifting sanctions on North Korea. On top of that, while South Korea doubled down on its efforts to boost inter-Korean cooperation, Japan insisted on maintaining the current security structure on the Korean peninsula on the ground that North Korea did not take concrete measures to denuclearize itself. Japan called for the continuation of U.S.-ROK joint military excercise and was against the idea of declaring a formal end to the Korean War. It remains unclear whether Japan at that time had a more detailed vision for a denuclearized Korean peninsula. 

To put it simply, the conflict between South Korea and Japan stemmed from the absence of a common understanding of:  the precise definition of  “complete denuclearization”; the process of North Korean denuclearization and corresponding measures; and the change denuclearization might bring to the security order on the Korean peninsula. 

In late 2018, South Korea and Japan’s feud involving many complex issues unfolded alongside the conflict between the two sides over North Korea issues, further compounding the situation. The two countries found themselves locked in historical disputes and had trouble forging a military relationship underpinned by mutual trust. The events that had shaped the rocky relationship include: the Supreme Court's ruling on wartime forced labor (October 30, 2018); the dissolution  of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation (November 21, 2018); Japan’s withdrawal from the 2018 international fleet review hosted by South Korea in Jeju  amid a dispute over Japanese naval forces’plan to fly the “rising sun”flag (October 5, 2018); and the Japan–South Korea radar lock-on dispute (December 21, 2018). The rough state of relations made it difficult for both sides to cooperate on the Korean peninsula peace process. Tokyo since then has explored its own approach toward Pyongyang without working with Seoul. 

The Japanese government led by  Yoshihide Suga is expected to maintain the above-mentioned stance toward North Korea and continue related policies in the years ahead. Recent comments made by Prime Minister Suga suggests that Japan, while maintaining its current position on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, is willing to hold a summit meeting with no conditions attached to resolve the abduction issue. In addition, as the historical dispute rumbles on, Japan is expected to disregard South Korea’s presence in its efforts to approach North Korea. 

This outlook offers a glimpse into the path the Korean government could take in the coming years to mend ties with Japan and cooperate on North Korea issues. For starters, Korea should try to manage its historical disputes with Japan. Furthermore, it should firmly maintain its two-track approach toward Japan and create a diplomatic space where Korea and Japan can hold policy discussions on the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. Specifically, the Korean government should present a finely-crafted two-track strategy that is concrete enough to persuade the Japanese government to cooperate with South Korea in the midst of a row over history. 

It is imperative that both sides gain a common understanding of what the peace process on the Korean Peninsula means to both Korea and Japan through policy consultations. Consultations should be held to discuss the precise definition of  “complete denuclearization”; the process of North Korean denuclearization and corresponding measures; and the change denuclearization might bring to the security order on the Korean peninsula. And in this context, issues like inter-Korean cooperation, normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea, U.S. - DPRK talks, alliances and military exercises with the U.S. could also be discussed. It would be necessary to develop a shared understanding of these issues before the two sides explore ways to cooperate on the issues regarding North Korea sanctions. 

Given that most of the issues that could be discussed down the road are related to the security structure of the Korean peninsula, policy consultations should include security talks to discuss Pyongyang's short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which is Japan's overriding concern. It would be worth looking into the Kim Dae-jung administration's  approach toward Japan in the process of pursuing its "Sunshine Policy."  The Kim administration, by promoting a shared understanding of North Korea's ballistic missile program and actively engaging in security dialogue with Japan, successfully induced Tokyo to support  the policy. 

As the new Biden administration looks set to call for cooperation between America's two important East Asian allies, the inauguration of the new U.S. administration could serve as a good opportunity to open up new avenues for Korea-Japan cooperation related to the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. 

Recently, there have been voices that the Korean government should capitalize on the upcoming Tokyo Olympics to restart the peace process on the Korean Peninsula. This requires cooperation from Japan, and whether or not Korea can induce cooperation from Japan depends on how clearly Korea can present to Japan the strategic importance of Korea-Japan relations in future efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula, as well as a clear path toward greater collaboration.


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  #KoreaJapanRelations #CVID #JapanDiplomacy #PeaceProcess
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