[Editorial] Breakdown in Pyongyang-Tokyo dialogue puts greater responsibility on Seoul

Posted on : 2024-03-27 16:53 KST Modified on : 2024-03-27 16:53 KST
It’s an unwelcome turn of events that dialogue between Pyongyang and Tokyo has been severed, as it is likely to have negative ramifications for the Korean Peninsula
Then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shake hands during their meeting in Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2020. (pool photo)
Then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shake hands during their meeting in Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2020. (pool photo)

Kim Yo-jong announced in a press statement issued on Tuesday that North Korea would “reject” all contact and negotiations with Japan, effectively slamming the door on dialogue between the two sides. That declaration came only one day after another statement attributed to Kim, in which she said that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, “through another channel, conveyed his intention to personally meet” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “as soon as possible.” 
 
This breakdown in North Korea-Japan contact at a time when dialogue between the two Koreas has been cut off for the past two years, ever since the inauguration of President Yoon Suk-yeol in the South, will do nothing to stabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The responsibility and the burden on Seoul have just gotten bigger. 
 
Ultimately, Tokyo and Pyongyang were unable to narrow their differences in opinion on a few key issues, namely North Korea’s nuclear program and missiles, and the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens.

 In Tuesday’s press statement, Kim stated that Japan “has no courage to change history, promote regional peace and stability and take the first step” for renewing relations with North Korea. She criticized Tokyo for mentioning the “pending nuclear and missile issue which has nothing to do with” the current talks, and for “clinging to the unattainable issues which can never be settled and have nothing to be settled.”

In other words, North Korea didn’t want to waste its breath talking to Japan, when Tokyo hadn’t changed its attitude. 
 
On the other hand, Japan also has its own complicated problems. Kishida has been voicing his desire for a North Korea-Japan summit since May 2023 in the hopes of boosting his approval ratings, which have plummeted to the low 20 percent range, by resolving a matter that even former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to resolve: the issue of abducted Japanese nationals by North Korea.
 
Even if North Korea states that the abduction issue is off the table, Japan cannot let the issue slide. Historically, the failure of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s 2002-2004 visit to Pyongyang and Abe’s Stockholm Agreement of 2014 was due to Japan’s inability to resolve the domestic tensions over the abduction issue.
 
The North has exercised restraint when it comes to military provocations such as nuclear and missile tests during times of sincere dialogue with the South, the US and Japan. Because of this, it’s an unwelcome turn of events that dialogue between Pyongyang and Tokyo has been severed, as it is likely to have negative ramifications for the Korean Peninsula — even more so due to the mangled state of inter-Korean ties. 

Although Yoon has given his all to strengthen bilateral and trilateral relations with both the US and Japan since he took office, both countries have either attempted communication with North Korea, as is the case with Japan, or, like the US, have recently sent signals indicating that they are open to dialogue.
 
If former President Donald Trump emerges victorious from the November US presidential election, South Korea may be left out of any potential US-North Korea dialogue.
 
The government should be aware of its precarious position and move toward bold policy shifts to restore inter-Korean relations.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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