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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (October 9, 2003)

Angst builds over next round with North

Kenzo UCHIDA (Professor of Political Science, Tokai University)

Japanese diplomacy appears to be in a lull with the situation in Asia centered on the problem with North Korea. Immediately after the six-nation talks were held in the first half of September, reports from Moscow suggested that the next round of six-nation talks would take place in Beijing in early November. We are now in October, however, and there still has been no word about the schedule for the next round.

At the root of the problem is the fact that the two countries that are showing leadership in the six-nation talks, the United States and China, are not seeing eye to eye on how to proceed. The background factor here is Russia and China, which have behaved as both friends and foes ever since the communist days of the Soviet Union. On this issue, they are both interested parties with borders on North Korea.

Furthermore, among the six nations participating in the talks, the U.S., China and Russia view the Korean Peninsula from the perspective of a power game in international politics, so naturally there is a large gap between their sense of crisis and that of the three other countries (Japan plus North and South Korea).

In other words, the six-nation talks are split between three powers and three immediately concerned nations, so inevitably discussions are protracted and inconclusive. In these circumstances, the face-to-face meeting between Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing at U.N. headquarters in New York in late September deserves attention.

The Chinese side reportedly was impressed with Japan's constructive role on North Korea's nuclear problem, and the Japanese side asked for China's understanding and cooperation in reaching a solution to the abduction issue. The two foreign ministers also promised that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao would hold discussions around Oct. 10 during the summit meeting between the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan, China and South Korea.

These opportunities for direct dialogue between Japan, representing the three countries immediately concerned, and China, representing the three powers, could play an important role in pulling the six-nation talks out of their rut while boosting mutual understanding and development between Japan and China.

The international situation, meanwhile, especially that in the Middle East, is hardly in a lull; it is chaotic. In the first half of this year, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush embarked on a unilateral course of military action that brought down Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in a couple of months. The U.S. seemed to be on a roll as it talked about toppling the regimes in North Korea next and then Iran. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Koizumi supported the U.S. action.

Since spring, however, guerrilla attacks against U.S. and British forces in Iraq have been rampant, and international opinion also has moved in the direction of criticizing the actions of the U.S. and Britain.

In the U.S. itself, as the 2004 presidential election approaches, the popularity and approval rating of Bush's Republican administration is dropping. In Britain, criticism of Blair is even more severe. And in Japan, Koizumi, who once talked merrily of dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq and stationing them there, has recently been mum on the matter. To add to the chaos, confrontations between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East appear to be flaring up again.

As for the North Korea problem, at first the U.S. behaved as though it was ready to launch a nuclear strike, but international trends certainly would not permit such a move. It was no doubt in recognition of these currents that Washington decided to promote the six-nation talks. China and Russia jumped on board, and China then agreed to host the talks in Beijing. One can only hope that these talks resume in November.

(This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2003 issue of The Japan Times. Do not quote without the author's permission.)

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