(Last of Three Parts)
Japanese and East Asian security issues specialist Dr. Jeffrey Hornung of RAND Corporation sat down with Sankei Shimbun Washington correspondent Hiroyuki Kano in late April to discuss the prospects of the upcoming United States-North Korea summit in June.
This is the final installment of the interview excerpts published by JAPAN Forward.
I am concerned about the fact that President [Donald] Trump welcomed the North-South inter-Korean summit. Yet he probably never read the Declaration. Can the United States accept only North-South-U.S. talks, or North-South-U.S.-China talks?
I am not concerned so much about whether Trump read the Declaration because I am sure NSC (National Security Council) and State Department people have read it. Just like you and I, people who are concerned about this issue have read it.
The other part of your question, though, is about the summits. Officials are talking about U.S., China, North and South Korea, and peace, moving forward. The problem for me would be that if the four countries actually sit down and say, “O.K., let’s end the Korean War,” and then say, “Now we need to negotiate all of these issues like denuclearization, long-range missiles, unification of the Peninsula.”
I think there is a big concern if Japan is not a part of the discussions when they start to talk in concrete terms about the difficult issues that need to be worked out for an end to the Korean War to happen.
Although there is an argument to be made that Japan does not have any right to be part of the armistice talks, Japan does have a right to be part of talks about denuclearization, decommissioning of nuclear sites, human rights, and other issues. If North Korea or China or South Korea tries to block Japanese participation, that’s a problem. All of the negotiations involved in working out a peace treaty—like denuclearization, like human rights issues—are talks that Japan, and even Russia, needs to be a part of. Whatever happens on the Peninsula matters for Japanese security.
There are a lot of other reasons why Japan needs to be a part of this. Financial contributions are a big one, and also technological contributions. If you are trying to decommission nuclear reactors or search for dirty areas, Japanese technologies could be useful.
Another reason is that Japan has been the headquarters for the United Nations rear command. Seven of our designated U.N. bases are there. Japan has played a role in the security of the Peninsula in a very indirect way because of that. So, I think Japan needs to be part of some of these discussions.
What do you think about the North and South mentioning a peace treaty?
This is where I go back to the skeptical side. I am doing a project here at RAND right now where we are talking about the implications of a peace treaty. It started six months ago, so now our study is very relevant because of what has happened.
The North and South have talked about peace treaties before— the talk is not new. That is why I look at this and say, other than words, what did North or South Korea do that was costly and would really commit them to a peace treaty? The answer is, nothing. They have just said words.
Looking forward, it is important to see what kinds of actions they take to move in the direction of a peace treaty or to end the Korean War. If you look at the big picture, they could agree to end the war. But if they don’t deal with any of the threats, like nuclear weapons and long-range and medium-range missiles, then really what does ending the Korean War do? Because the threat is still unchanged. So, for me, I am looking for the costly actions that both sides would take that would make it difficult for them to turn back. Right now, I don’t see that.
Last week (April), the opposition parties in Japan insisted that Japan was being left behind. Was that the intention of the North and China, because they want to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States?
As you said, North Korea looks for opportunities to drive a wedge, and I am sure Kim has people reporting on Japanese news, so he knows that the abductions are a huge issue in Japan. If Kim Jong-un knows that Abe and Trump have talked about the abduction issue, the easiest way he could divide Japan and the U.S. is to do exactly as I mentioned before—tell Trump, “We will compromise on these issues, but we won’t compromise on that.” That would essentially test Trump. Is he willing to really stand by Japan and deliver or is he going to walk away?
That would be a real challenge because the North knows how to drive wedges. They have done it between South Korea and the United States. They have done it between the U.S. and Japan. This is what they are very good at doing and they will continue to do it.
With China, there is all this “Trump is meeting with Kim, but Trump is not meeting Xi.” There are some who say, “Is China left behind?” I don’t think so. But look at China—Kim and Xi met, but a lot of it is really being driven from North Korea. It is North Korea that is reaching out.
I understand that, in Japan, the opposition parties are trying to use this to hurt Abe. We cannot say right now that Japan has been left behind. I say only that there is a risk of being left behind. But, if the Trump-Kim meeting happens and none of Japan’s interests are acted on, then we have to ask, “What did Abe’s friendship with Trump really deliver?”
Right now, Abe is in a difficult domestic position because of the scandals. Given that it looks bad that he is not meeting with Kim, the opposition parties are looking for opportunities to really hurt him, more than probably is justified. It is easy to criticize Abe, given the position he is in right now—he is vulnerable.
Would you say South Korea has moved closer to North Korea and China, and away from U.S.-South Korea, or U.S.-South Korea-Japan trilateral cooperation?
There are a lot of people who argue that South Korea is torn. There are tendencies to lean towards the U.S., and other tendencies to lean towards China. In some ways, it is natural because the South’s security is provided by the United States. Their economic security, though, is from China in many ways, and the South also needs China because that is about their only leverage over North Korea.
But after the THAAD problem—when China punished South Korea through economic measures—that really opened up the eyes of many South Koreans to the fact that “China may say they are our friends, but look what they just did to us.” So, while there are people out there who say that South Korea is going to throw the U.S. under the bus and lean more towards China, I think that the THAAD episode shows that South Korea has a good understanding that you can’t fully rely on China.
I am sure there are elements within the South Korean government, especially the more liberal politicians who don’t like the U.S. alliance, that probably want to lean more towards China. But at least for now, I see Korean policy as still the same. It’s committed to the alliance, it’s committed to stability. It is not in China’s orbit.
Dr. Jeffrey Hornung is a political scientist at the RAND Corporation’s Washington office. He specializes in Japanese and East Asian security issues, maritime security and U.S. foreign and defense policies in the East Asia and Pacific region. He received his PhD from the George Washington University. He has written several publications, including Managing the U.S.-Japan Alliance; An Examination of Structural Linkages in the Security Relationship (Sasakawa USA, 2017) and is a co-author of Chinese-Japanese Competition and the East Asian Security Complex: Vying for Influence (Routledge, 2017).
Hiroyuki Kano is a correspondent for The Sankei Shimbun based in Washington, D.C. and a contributing writer for JAPAN Forward.