Japan, North Korea Closer

From the August 2004 Trumpet Print Edition

Japan is moving away from its reliance on the U.S. Its latest moves toward independence from Washington and consolidation of regional power have been driven forward by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. In early July, the prime minister announced that he hopes to normalize diplomatic ties with North Korea by September 2006.

What does North Korea stand to gain from a deal with Japan? Plenty. Normalizing ties with one of the region’s economic leaders will lead to Japanese aid and investment in the wealth-deprived Communist state. Such relations would also make North Korea less dependent on China, which has maintained a fair bit of influence over North Korea. Although they are drawing out talks (e.g., Koizumi’s latest visit in May), it appears that Pyongyang simply wants to squeeze as many concessions as possible from its rich and able-bodied neighbor.

Most important, however, is what Japan stands to gain. It seems crazy to snuggle up to the knavish and bomb-happy Kim Jong-Il; such an affiliation is begging for trouble. So why warm up to Pyongyang?

Koizumi and his Liberal Democratic Party face decreasing popularity due to recent pension reforms and the deployment of troops to Iraq. Securing normal relations with the region’s wild card (and continuing to bring home Japanese who have been held by the Communist regime) will improve Koizumi’s ratings.

More importantly, Stratfor wrote, “Geopolitically Tokyo wants to reduce its reliance on the U.S. security role in northeast Asia …” (July 4). One way to do that is by normalizing its relations with North Korea.

In the long run, Tokyo’s weight in regional affairs could multiply, as it will hold the North Korean chain, reduce China’s control of the nation and grow more independent. Check the June issue of the Trumpet for more on Japan’s political strategy.