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2009/10/08 10:51 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 75 (October 8, 2009)


Future Direction of Ruling Democratic Party of Japan's N.K. Policies

By Shin Jung-wha (Professor, Dongseo University, Busan, South Korea)

On September 16, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) became that country's ruling party, ending a 54-year reign by the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and establishing a liberalist government in its place. So far, the new government has put forth plans such as "construction of a closer yet more equal U.S.-Japan alliance," "formation of an East Asian multinational organization," and other potential foreign and security related policies which appear far different when compared to the policies of the previous government. However, will the DPJ's policies toward North Korea also be different than its predecessor's? What will it consist of and how will the new government carry out its policies toward North Korea?

   Japan's policies toward North Korea have been largely shaped around Cold War era principles, with emphasis placed on the U.S.-Japan Alliance. The LDP's policies toward the Korean Peninsula were based upon the premise that a stable Korean Peninsula was needed for Japan to prosper and remain at peace. As a result, in 1965, Japan normalized relations with South Korea and since then, the two countries have deepened their relations through exchanges and cooperation in various sectors such as politics, economics, and culture. However, Japan has yet to establish diplomatic relations with its other counterpart on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea, and continues to maintain a tense relationship.

   At the end of the Cold War in 1991, the ruling LDP began normalization talks with North Korea. Since then, the two sides have held such negotiations on 13 occasions in addition to 2 separate summit meetings. Japan's reasoning is that by achieving normalization with North Korea it can extend its influence over East Asia. However, Japan has repeatedly confronted and shown hostility toward North Korea regarding issues such as historical disputes, Japanese citizens abducted by the North and Pyongyang's nuclear and weapons program.

   In 1993, when North Korea's nuclear program first became a matter of international concern, the LDP attempted to change North Korea's behavior by applying pressure rather then through talks. In addition, as the issue of Japanese abductees gained in significance in 1997 and after North Korea launched its Taepodong missile the following year, the government in Tokyo labeled North Korea a threat to its security. At the same time, the LDP also developed the Theater Missile Defense (TMD) system and passed three laws related to the U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines, represented by Japan's Surrounding Area's Law. Thus, the fortification of Japan's defenses, driven by the looming threat of North Korea and enhanced via the strengthening of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance, became integral to the LDP's plans to increase Japan's role in international security while cementing its conservative domestic base.

   The Democratic Party of Japan, which has strictly interpreted the country's pacifist Constitution, has been less assertive than the LDP about Japan's right to self defense. The new government has expressed interest in continuing the U.S.-Japan alliance and has shown a willingness to contribute to the United Nation's goal of establishing world peace.

   Prior to the August elections, in its "2009 Democratic Party of Japan's Manifesto of Election Pledges," the DPJ stated with regards to foreign policy, first, that it would build a more intimate and equal U.S.-Japan relationship. Second, the party would support the creation of an East Asian multinational organization and would strengthen its diplomatic efforts in Asia. Third, the party would not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power. Fourth, the party will work to bring peace and prosperity to the entire world. Fifth, the party would be at the forefront of denuclearization and would work to eliminate any potential terrorist threats.

   In short, as the Obama administration works to restore America's global influence by pursuing a nuclear-free world, it could also be said that Japan is trying to strengthen its position as the leader of the region by pursuing a nuclear-free East Asia. The important point here is that the DPJ's policies toward North Korea will play a crucial role in the party's overall foreign policy goals.
Under the premise that it does not recognize North Korea as a nuclear power and with regards to its policies toward the communist country, the DPJ's election pledges state that North Korea's nuclear tests and missile launches are a threat to the peace and stability of Japan and the world. Thus, it cannot allow North Korea to carry on with such actions. Also, in addition to cargo inspections, it states that the government will work with the international community to force North Korea to give up any development, possession, and deployment of WMDs. In reference to Japanese abductees, the party's campaign pledges stress that the kidnappings are a violation of the human rights of its citizens and that the government will exert itself to solve the problem.

   Such a position on North Korea hardly differs from that of the DPJ's predecessor. However, unlike the LDP that used the threat of North Korea to strengthen its conservative hold, the DPJ's goals of establishing a liberal foundation for the nation require the denuclearization of North Korea. In addition, the party's leaders are well aware of the fact that the previous government's hard-line policies, based on pressure and sanctions, did not lead to a solution of neither the North Korean nuclear dispute or the issue of Japanese abductees. Therefore, unlike the LDP, there is a greater possibility that the ruling DPJ will utilize softer policies based mostly on diplomacy rather than overt pressure.

   More specifically, Japan's new government will likely use the Pyongyang Declaration, announced after a Japan-North Korea summit meeting in September 2002, as the frame of reference for future talks for normalization of relations between the two countries. The declaration contains agreements on historical disputes and the kidnapping issue as well as on the nuclear and missile debate. Second, the ruling party will push for the North Korean nuclear problem to be solved within the framework of the six-party talks as such measures would help the DPJ to realize its goal of a nuclear-free East Asia. Third, while the new government's stance on the issue of abductees is similar to that of its conservative predecessor, it appears the DPJ will slowly ease sanctions on North Korea while working to resolve the nuclear issue. Along that line, political compromises on the issue of abductees may be made which could mean a greater possibility of resolving the dispute.

   Regarding North Korea's demand that Japan admit to its past wrongdoings, the ruling Democrats will have a much more forward-looking stance. Japan's new leaders are well aware of the fact that in order for the country to become Asia's diplomatic leader, it needs to regain the trust of its neighbors. In accordance, Tokyo realizes the need to express remorse for its past, suggesting the new ruling party will take a more flexible stance than its predecessor on such issues as compensation for the victims of Japan's war time activities.