Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and US Navy (USN) have started the annual bilateral maritime field training on November 16. It will be conducted until Nov. 26.
The primary reason for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and United States President Donald Trump’s very close relationship is that, of the leaders concerned, the Prime Minister is the only one who “supports President Trump’s position that all options are on the table” with respect to the North Korean threat. That is to say he has clearly indicated that his position includes support for a military solution.
The North Korean nuclear missile crisis is now reaching the stage where it could cause catastrophic damage to central United States. Therefore, attitudes towards this are becoming the critical yardstick by which to measure the quality of the relationships between the US and other countries.
South Korea as Collaborator
In an administrative policy speech on November 1st, South Korean President Moon Jae-in strongly emphasized that “no matter what the circumstances, a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula must be avoided,” and that “military action without the prior consent of South Korea is unacceptable.” It was a clear message of defiance and constraint towards the Trump administration.
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton—said to be a possible replacement for US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose resignation is constantly in the air—emphasizes: “We cannot allow any ally to have the veto power. In the event of military action, the United States would make the utmost efforts to reduce the harm on South Korea. However, the mission of the US President is first and foremost that of ensuring the safety of American citizens. Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s national security adviser , argued that we could live with a nuclear North Korea under a brutal dictator. I refuse that.”
Moon Jae-in’s comments are likely to compel the US not to share sensitive information with South Korea nor inform them of moves to exercise military options until the last minute. In the first place, the US intelligence circle regards the longtime hardcore pro-North activists, such as Chief Presidential Secretary Im Jong-seok, as North Korean collaborators and might use them as a conduit to supply false information to the enemy.
China’s Unconvincing Advocacy
Both China and Russia refuse to recognize US military action. In September, both countries also opposed a proposed oil embargo as part of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea, thus crude oil exports were allowed to remain at the existing level, namely, significantly watered-down. In his November 8th speech at the Korean National Assembly, President Trump urged China and Russia, among others, regardless of the Security Council resolution, “to sever all ties of trade and technology.” Since China accounts for roughly 90% of North Korea’s trade, its response will become a crucial factor.
The effectiveness of sanctions will be measured by how successfully North Korea conducts its long-range missile tests. If tests continuously fail, the tentative response of the US would be, “Our goals can be achieved through sanctions, so let us give them some more time.” If, on the contrary, test results show missiles can hit Los Angeles or New York easily, there will be moves towards military options.
China often argues that the reasons Beijing does not like the collapse of the current North Korean regime are the fear of a mass influx of refugees, and to avoid encroachment towards its borders by the US military under a unified Korea.
The first can only be interpreted as Chinese propaganda. Dealing with refugees is a difficult issue only for the free democracies with human rights concerns. The Chinese government would have no hesitation in using brute force to hold back the refugees. In fact, they continue to forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees, in violation of the United Nations Convention on Refugees.
With respect to the second point, if China were to cooperate in a regime change for North Korea, the message emanating from various sources in the US is that, rather than encroaching northwards, a US withdrawal from the south is a possibility.
Even the leading conservative hardliner, former Ambassador Bolton, has proposed that it would be enough for the US forces to have the bridgehead in Busan. Interestingly, the same Bolton proposes strengthening of military relations between the US and Taiwan. What brings this difference?
Need for Freedom and Safety
If South Korea won’t move for reunification after the collapse of the current North Korean regime by a coup d’état (the most desirable course) or the US Military strikes, then there is a high possibility that the Trump administration will tolerate the installation of a Chinese puppet regime on the condition of the complete dismantlement of nuclear and missile capabilities. And even if the Chinese military begins to use North Korean ports its difficulty to move freely into the Pacific Ocean will remain unchanged so long as Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines, backed by the US military, form a containment line.
On the other hand, if China forcibly absorbs Taiwan, along with the fact that it constitutes outright abuse of freedom and democracy by the fascist regime, the Chinese Navy would establish a base in Taiwan, enjoying freedom of movement in the Pacific Ocean. The South China Sea’s north-eastern doorway would be under the complete control of China as well. In short, while a free and independent Taiwan is strategically indispensable to the US, the northern half of the Korean peninsula could be a “sacrifice stone” at least temporarily. US-China relations will proceed on the basis of this assumption.
So then, what should Japan do? First, Japan should concentrate on overturning the Kim Jong-un regime. Japan-US alliance is the key for that. While there are some who argue that overthrowing the regime without a viable post-Kim plan is not advisable, reality is that Japan, which is prohibited by the Constitution even to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to rescue abductees, has no power to realize any conceived plan.
Japan’s long-term major strategy in East Asia should be to pursue freedom and democracy for all territories under Chinese rule. To be proactively involved in achieving this, it will be necessary for Japan to undergo a major transformation itself, including constitutional revision.
Yoichi Shimada is a professor of International Politics at Fukui Prefectural University, Japan.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)