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Given that there are only a few months to the July 2008 G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, it seems awfully seredipitous that the abduction issue is hitting the headlines again. In May, so far, the Japan Times has thrice reported stories relating to the issue.

On May 4th, it reported:

Don’t delist North: abductee group

A senior member representing families of Japanese abducted by North Korea urged the United States on Friday to keep North Korea on its list of terror-sponsoring nations until the abduction issue is resolved.

Teruaki Masumoto, secretary general of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, made the pitch with supporters in a meeting with Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy to the six-party North Korea denuclearization talks.

“If North Korea is delisted, it will give the country breathing space and make efforts to rescue our families take longer. So we want North Korea to be kept on the list,” he told reporters after emerging from the meeting at the U.S. State Department.

[…]

“My impression is that Mr. Hill takes what North Korea says at face value and may not believe the victims of the abductions are still alive,” Masumoto said. “We believe the victims are definitely alive.”

Whenever the Kazokukai are in the US, you can be sure that more news will follow as the cohorts renew their politicking.

From May 10th:

Tokyo denies asking Seoul for Yokota meeting

The government Friday denied a media report that Japan asked South Korea to help arrange a meeting between the parents of Megumi Yokota […] and her granddaughter, who still lives in the reclusive state.

“The media report is not based on facts,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference. “It is a very regrettable article when considering the feelings of the Yokota couple,” he said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Friday morning that Kyoko Nakayama, an Upper House member and special adviser to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on the abduction issue, asked Seoul to help arrange with North Korea a meeting in South Korea between Shigeru and Sakie Yokota and Megumi’s daughter and former husband.

Citing a source knowledgeable of Japanese-South Korean relations, the article said Nakayama made the request during her visit to Seoul last month and said she intended to return cremated remains that North Korea handed to Japan in 2004 claiming they were those of Megumi, if such a meeting were arranged.

Nakayama flatly denied making such remarks when she visited Seoul on April 25. Nakayama told reporters that while she is aware the Yokotas want to meet with their granddaughter, it is not something that can be achieved by making a request to Seoul for help.

Nakayama also said the issue of the cremated remains was not even mentioned in her talks with the officials and repeated that Japan’s policy is that it will not return them to North Korea.

Has North Korea even asked for those ashes back? Doesn’t it still maintain that they are Yokotas, questioning the DNA testing along with assumedly neutral Nature, the science journal/magazine? The story seems absurd, so much so that I wonder what prompted it. Slow news day, perhaps? That the Yokotas would like to meet their granddaughter seems assured, but to suggest that the government would attempt to use the dodgy ashes to bargain with North Korea by way of the warier Lee Administration seems a little far-fetched. Such a policy doesn’t fit within the framework of dialogue and pressure, but, were it true and if it succeeded, it would have made for a good photoshoot ahead of the G8 Summit, in line with the raised stature of the abduction issue while all (some?) eyes are on Japan. Thus, I am on the fence with this one. Was it the Yomiuri trying to show up the government, or was it the matter of the government trying to prepare to raise the abduction issue in the context of the G8 Summit? I can’t tell.

Finally, from May 12th:

N. Korea suggested existence of other abductees in 2004

North Korea suggested to a Japanese official in early 2004 that there were abductees other than the 15 officially recognized as abduction victims by Tokyo at that time, government sources said Sunday.

Yoshiyuki Inoue, who was in charge of the abduction issue at the Cabinet Office, sought information on abductees other than the 15 when he visited North Korea several times between late 2003 and January 2004, and officials there indicated readiness to reveal the fates of some of them, according to the sources.

[…]Inoue was discussing with North Korea repatriation of family members of five abductees who had returned to Japan in October 2002, and examination of the whereabouts of another 10 abductees, the sources said. But Pyongyang suspended the talks in February 2004 when his visits to North Korea came to light in a media report.

This is the clincher. If North Korea can be shown to willfully withheld information from the Japanese government in its 2002-2004 diplomacy efforts, then there is justification for the further pursuit of the abduction issue (beyond the slightly naive notion that Yokota Megumi is alive). However, that Inoue failed to comment is notable: this is surely untrue. Would Abe Shinzo, most particularly, have failed to have levied such a charge against the North? I doubt that.

Abduction politics comes in fits and starts. How extensive this current concentration of noise becomes will not be clear until the G8 Summit begins, but I imagine that Japan will once again call upon the other 7 members to stand against North Korea’s human rights abuses and finally, although perhaps impossibly, bring Yokota Megumi home.

North Korea is taking on the world, and we have no choice but to respond.

Nuclear Showdown (2005) is journalist Gordon G. Chang’s conclusion to his contribution to the study of North Korea as a East Asian and global crisis.

It was Chang’s chapter on Japan and the abduction issue that first caught my eye. I found the book as I flicked around the shelves of my local store and immediately I knew I had to buy it. I picked up the 2007 Arrow edition, which includes a new foreword addressing the October 2006 nuclear test.

Chang eases you into the book and takes you along a wandering argument that climaxes with an acknowledgement of the dangerous times in which we live. He is even-handed and incisive throughout, even if his somewhat flowery prose may grate at times. He writes well, although whoever decided to forego conventional footnoting for the bizarre system employed might need rounding up and shooting: finding the relevant comments and references is a pain in the ass.

Chang’s conception of North Korea is of a regime fighting to stay alive as capitalism wells up at the grassroots-level. Chang criticises the US for being to soft on North Korea’s past transgressions, such as the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968, and for not negotiating and controlling North Korea’s nuclear rise in a consistent and firm manner. He also criticises America’s over-generosity to China who should now look to become a responsible world citizen by reining in its client state, or preferably abandoning it altogether. He criticises South Korea, particularly former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, for sustaining a fragile regime that relying on foreign aid for its survival while snubbing market reform as a result of the brewing bottom-up revolution.

On the issue of Japan, Chang is sympathetic to the country’s more immediate concern of attack: the pressing threat posed by North Korea acts more strongly on Japan than the US. He also notes the overwhelmingly political nature of the abduction issue and its emotional underpinnings. Japan is most at risk from a North Korean nuke, and as a result it is struggling to stay confined to the bounds of the constitution imposed upon it by the American post-War authorities. Despite that, it must: a Japanese bomb would create a whole new arms race and set of global tensions.

It is to this tension that Chang so skilfully leads the reader. For him, the North Korean problem highlights the challenge posed to the global hegemon, the US. Chang finds WWII to be apogee of US power, and from then on it has been relatively weakened as the destroyed nations around it have rebuilt. He is not implying that the US is by any means facing the end of its history, but rather that it has a chance to solidify its position.

Chang believes that the US should reinvigorate the non-proliferation norms and regime by carrying out what it committed to in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: the destruction of its nuclear stockpile. Chang suggests that even a wholesale, yet incomplete, dismantling of the US arsenal would show the state’s good intentions to the currently less-than-impressed non-nuclear powers. “The American president can give the order to eliminate all life on this planet several times over. If he decides to reduce his arsenal so that he can kill everybody only once, are his constituents any less safe?”

Chang is encouraging the US to take the bold step to make an example of North Korea. By unilaterally reducing its nuclear stockpile it will show its commitment to a non-nuclear future. He also encourages the US to be tough on North Korea in the Six-Party Talks and place all the issues on the table: from human rights to counterfeiting. By doing so, the Chinese and South Koreans will be forced to take sides (all the while under pressure from the international community to take the most reasonable side, that of the US). Ultimately, however, Chang believes that the US should be prepared to make an example of North Korea by committing itself to a possible use of force. “But if there ever were a reason to go to war, it is to save the nonproliferation treat and the global arms control regime. No other justification for conflict comes close.”

Chang’s argument is bold in and of itself. He is pessimistic for our future, and quite rightly so. At the moment, his work is still relevant. In the three years since Nuclear Showdown was first published, little progress has been made. Whether one accepts his conclusions is down to the individual, but the claims presented are well-linked and researched and show a broad understanding of the North Korean crisis in the context of global security.

Maybe our struggle with [Kim] is not the clash of good and evil, as some would have it, but it is at the very least a fight to preserve the liberal international system that has been responsible for so much global progress.

From the Japan Times:

U.S. won’t forget abductees: Negroponte

NEW YORK (Kyodo) U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Thursday he understands the importance Japan places on resolving the abduction issue as efforts are under way to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and pledged that his country would not forget them or their families.

“Japan can be confident we will not forget the abductees or their families,” Negroponte told an audience at the Japan Society in New York.

[…]The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday that the relations between the two would never improve if Tokyo continues to link the abductions with the denuclearization issue.

In his presentation, Negroponte also described Japan as a vital partner in the six-party talks being held among North and South Korea, Russia, China and the United States.

Sung Kim, the State Department’s top Korea expert, is now in Pyongyang, where he is expected to meet with North Korean officials to advance talks aimed at scrapping the North’s nuclear programs.

[…]“Even as we focus on the goal of verifiable denuclearization in the six-party talks, the United States will continue to urge North Korea to address the abduction issue directly with Japan,” he said. “We do understand the significance of the abduction issue to the Japanese people.”

Although Negroponte’s tone is no doubt appreciated by the Japanese, I imagine they wish it had come from higher up the chain: Rice or even Bush. Furthermore, if US actions don’t match their words then the Japanese are unlikely to take Negroponte’s words to heart.

Kim’s words draw out the true message: the US will forge ahead in the Six-Party Talks and Japan should follow placing denuclearisation before the abduction issue which can be pursued in an alternative forum. Until then, the KCNA continue to have a scapegoat to bash for North Korea’s dragging of feet.

That isn’t to say that the US is taking the wrong approach. Denuclearisation has to be prioritised for the security of the Koreas, Japan, East Asia and the world. If we do not face the nuclear threat, there may be no chance to address any other issues.

Kurata Hideya, a professor at Kyorin University, is a figure that has attracted some scorn for his belief that the public outrage over the abduction issue is a serious impediment to Japanese security, namely by promoting this historical occurrence over the existential threats posed by North Korean’s missile and nuclear development programmes.

I agree wholeheartedly with the opinion he expresses below. It is similar in tone to the opinion of Gerald Curtis, a pre-eminent Japan scholar, who said at a conference at The Korea Society on 24th November 2006,

Japan is not and will not be a major player on the North Korean issue. […] It has put itself in a corner in terms of taking a very hard-line policy and it is impossible for me to see this administration offering normalisation, reparations and the other things that would come in the process of normalisation as a way to entice North Korea back to the tables.

I don’t believe anyone (except the North Koreans, I imagine) is saying that the abduction issue isn’t worth pursuing, but rather that the Six Party Talks are neither the time or place. It is a matter of priorities. North Korea are reluctant to give away its newfound nuclear capabilities. That is where the focus should be placed.

Anyway, Kurata says it better than I:

‘The Six Party Talks Still Crucial to Japan’s Abduction Issue’ by Kurata Hideya

[…] Progress in the Six Party Talks — which seem to be suffering a setback due to Pyongyang’s silence despite the passage of the December 31 deadline by which it was supposed to declare all its nuclear programs — is necessary for Japan to keep open the channel of dialogue with North Korea, without which the resolution of the abduction issue will be very difficult.

[…] The February 2007 agreement, under which North Korea will shut down its main reactor at Yongbyon in return for aid and possible US removal of North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, was a clear sign that the United States shifted to an approach of engagement within the Six Party Talks framework.

Washington’s turnaround has created a contradiction in approach between the UN Security Council and the regional Six Party Talks process. UN Resolution 1718 bans trade with North Korea having to do with weapons of mass destruction or luxury goods. On the other hand, the February agreement of the Six Party Talks acknowledged economic aid and regional diplomacy as most effective in nudging North Korea toward giving up its nuclear weapons. Thus the February agreement, which would offer practical gains to North Korea, contradicted the sanctions-imposing Resolution 1718. The pledge of massive economic aid announced by South Korea during the North-South meeting last October is exacerbating this contradiction.

Japan is embracing this contradiction in its policy toward North Korea. Japan is the only country among North Korea’s counterparts in the Six Party Talks that is imposing sanctions on its own terms. Under the February agreement, however, it is expected to improve relations with North Korea by providing aid. Japanese public opinion prefers the hard-line stance, believing that continued economic sanctions and the American designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism constitute important “sticks” necessary to resolve the abduction issue.

We need to remind ourselves that ours is the country facing the greatest nuclear and missile threat from North Korea. According to the February agreement, Pyongyang must declare all its nuclear activities and disable its nuclear facilities before being removed from the American list of terrorist-supporting countries. We could have abandoned the Six Party Talks altogether when Pyongyang brazenly conducted its nuclear test in October 2006. Yet such abandonment may have encouraged the country to test another bomb. To be sure, the Six Party Talks do not guarantee the complete denuclearization of North Korea. Nevertheless, so long as there is no effective alternative, Japan must act as a responsible member of the multilateral diplomatic channel.

This does not suggest we should ignore the abduction issue. Both the nuclear and abduction issues need to be addressed, even though it is not necessary that the two issues be resolved at the same time through the same diplomatic channel. Without progress in the Six Party Talks, Tokyo and Pyongyang will hardly have the chance to sit down together to achieve a breakthrough in the abduction issue. Japan’s influence is limited within the Six Party Talks. Be that as it may, Japan must understand the paradox that robust multilateral talks alone can keep alive the bilateral negotiations with North Korea in which Japan can have its own say in resolving the thorny abduction issue.

The United States’ lack of real regard for the Japanese conduct of the abduction issue, or perhaps Japan’s hyper-sensitivity on the issue, is causing fractures in the US-Japan alliance.

The US has been linked to the abduction issue since it exploded into the Japanese public consciousness in 1997. The issue supposedly caught Clinton off-guard in an April 1997 summit; as Clinton asked the Japanese to provide food aid to the North Koreans, Prime Minister Hashimoto stated the new Japanese concern regarding North Korea’s abductions. The 1998 ‘Taepodong Shock’ showed the Clinton administration, and the rest of the world, that diplomacy with North Korea had to concentrate on North Korea’s destabilising missile and nuclear projects.

President Clinton argued in May 1999 that the best way to deal with the kidnapping issue was to settle the nuclear and missile issues and end the threat of war on the Korean peninsula. He asserted that once these issues were resolved, “it is more likely that other matters will also be resolved.” Unlike 1997, however, the Clinton administration recognized the credibility of the kidnapping issue. President Clinton and other administration officials acknowledged that Japan considered the issue important and that the United States would support Japan’s attempts to negotiate with North Korea on it. Clinton asserted again in May 1999 that: “If you believe that there are Japanese people who were abducted and taken to North Korea, I think you should keep working on it and looking until you find them alive or you know where they’re buried. And I will support that very, very strongly.”

Niksch, L. A. (2002). North Korea and Terrorism: The Yokota Megumi Factor. Korean Journal of Defense Analysis , 14 (1), 7-23: pp. 12-13

The position expressed by Clinton has stuck to this day. As a staff member of the US Embassy in London once told me in early 2007, Japan is America’s chief ally in the Asia-Pacific and the US supports its position on the abduction issue, however the issue is Japan’s not America’s, the US has its own interests to pursue. It’s a diplomatic stance, but in practice the US has sought to minimise the effect of Japanese stubbornness on the abduction issue.

Following the 1999 Perry Initiative, which “outlined a US strategy to negotiate a series of agreements with North Korea to reduce its missile and nuclear programs and eventually eliminate them” (Niksch, 2002, p. 13), the US attempted to secure a Japanese financial agreement to compensation (compared to money transferred during the South Korea-Japan normalisation of relations) without allowing them a negotiating role, presumably because of fears of derailment.

North Korea, at this point, presumably saw a diplomatic opening and entered into direct negotiations with the Japanese. North Korea has never been shy of playing powers off one another and with a possible agreement arising out of the Perry Initiative, North Korea possibly saw a chance to boost their ‘compensation’. However, this was not to be: “Kim Yong-sun’s offer created a situation in which Japan’s role in the Perry Initiative became dependent on direct Japan–North Korean negotiations in which Japan was determined to give priority to the kidnapping issue.” (Niksch, 2002, p. 16)

As the Japanese found their opening to directly negotiate on the abduction issue, the North Korean’s attempted to convince the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an action that the Clinton administration seemed to seriously consider. As part of the diplomacy, the North Koreans would have to ‘address issues of past support of terrorism’ which, despite the abduction issue not being the reason for North Korea’s inclusion on the list, would have to include consultations with Japan regarding North Korea’s support for the Japanese Red Army. (Niksch, 2002, p. 17)

All the while, the Japanese campaigned to have the US include the abductions in North Korea’s listing, and threatened to undermine US attempts to separate the rational efforts to resolve the missile and nuclear issues from the emotive abduction issue.

Prime Minister Mori reportedly secured President Clinton’s agreement at the G-8 meeting on Okinawa in July 2000 for US diplomats to raise the kidnapping issue with North Korea. Japanese diplomats urged the Clinton administration to raise the issue directly with the visiting North Korean envoy, who arrived in Washington in October 2000. The Japanese renewed pressure for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to place the issue on her agenda with North Korean officials when she visited Pyongyang in late October. The Japanese apparently used strong words with US officials, indicating that the Japan-US alliance would be damaged if the Clinton administration refused to raise the kidnapping issue. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on October 8, 2000, that “Japan views that if the United States removes the DPRK from the [terrorism] list without paying attention to the abduction issue, it would mean the United States is taking Japan lightly.”

Niksch, 2002, p. 20

Albright did bring up the issue in her visit and in doing so helped solidify Japanese expectations that the US would support its position in the future. This perception was undoubtedly strengthened under the Bush administration. In February 2001, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Hubbard met with the Kazokukai and pledged continuing US support for their cause. This meeting sidestepped the Japanese Mori government, whom the Kazokukai felt had betrayed by after a 500,000 tonnes rice aid deal despite Mori Yoshiro’s personal promise that progress towards normalisation would not occur without progress on the abduction issue. Nakayama Masaaki, leader of Nitcho giren (Dietmen’s League for the Promotion of Japan-North Korea Friendship) and of a parliamentary group on the abduction issue, was furious at the Kazokukai’s independent move. (Johnson, E. (June 2004). The North Korea Abduction Issue and Its Effect on Japanese Domestic Politics. Japan Policy Research Institute) However, it was the start of a strong relationship between the Bush administration and the actors in the abduction issue, benefiting strongly from the close interpersonal relationship between Bush and Koizumi Jun’ichiro.

Japan’s involvement in post-war Iraq was inherently tied to both the strength of this personal relationship and Japan’s concerns over North Korea. ‘In February 2004, [Koizumi] declared that it was of overwhelming importance for Japan to show that it was a “trustworthy ally,” because (as he put it) if ever Japan were to come under attack it would be the US, not the UN or any other country, that would come to its aid’. (McCormack, G. (November 8 2004). Koizumi’s Japan in Bush’s World: After 9/11. Japan Focus) If any state was about to attack North Korea, it was North Korea. One Cabinet Office survey showed that 80% felt war with North Korea was likely. Japan was clearly frightened of abandonment by the US over North Korea. (Yakushiji, K. (April 5 2003). Japanese Foreign Policy in Light of the Iraq War. Japan Focus) However, Koizumi’s gamble appeared to pay off: “Bush declared his own “unconditional” support for the Japanese position on the families of the North Korean abductees. […] It was, as a senior [LDP] official admitted, a deal: Japanese forces to Iraq in exchange for US support for Japan’s position on North Korean issues. (McCormack, 2004)

For the US, the abduction issue offered yet more ammunition to pressure North Korea on its human rights issue. In 2006, Abe Shinzo helped tighten the US interest in the abduction issue (beneficially coinciding with a major documentary into the human drama of the issue: Abduction – The Megumi Yokota Story). (Hughes, C. W. (2006). The Political Economy of Japanese Sanctions towards North Korea: Domestic Coalitions and International Systemic Pressures. Pacific Affairs , 79 (3), 455-481: p. 473) In March, Ambassador Schieffer visited Niigata to be given a tour of Yokota Megumi’s final walk home. In a press conference after the tour, he stated ‘the United States would always raise the abduction issue whenever it talked to North Korea about anything’, and ‘that there can be no comprehensive resolution with North Korea without a solution to the abduction issue’. In April , Yokota Sakie (mother of Yokota Megumi and representative of the Kazokukai) and Shimada Yoichi (representative of the Sukuukai) travelled to the US to testify to Congress ahead of the North Korean Human Rights Act. Yokota also met with President Bush who called it ‘one of the most moving meetings’ of his presidency, an impression that has lasted.

Following North Korea’s July Taepodong-2 test, Abe’s rise to office, and the October nuclear test, the US appeared prepared to reaffirm its priorities: missiles and nukes first, everything else later. However, the US were still willing to allow Japan to pressure North Korea on the issue, as Japan was adopting an increasingly hardline under Abe. The human rights issue was a legitimate concern for the world and any pressure was good pressure. With this in mind, the EU submitted a draft resolution on North Korea’s human rights record to the UN General Assembly, co-sponsored by Japan and the US, the latter of whom had received some pressure to work to push the bill through by the Kazokukai in the form of a personal visit to Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Yet with the release of the 13 February 2007 Joint Statement, which offered a great deal of optimism in the Six-Party Talks, the US sought to pressure Abe to be more specific about just what progress entailed.

Japan’s stubbornness on the abduction issue threatens the worth of its role in the Six-Party Talks. After the negotiations on the release of funds from the Banco Delta Asia finally came to fruition, the US clearly didn’t want to squander this new found energy. Japan’s refusal to allow for bargaining room in the SPT has meant that it is inflexible. To their minds, the North Koreans have been rewarded enough for their bad behaviour. However, now “under the terms of the six-party deal on North Korea’s nuclear programs, the U.S. is committed to beginning the process of delisting the country [from the list of state sponsors of terrorism] as Pyongyang moves ahead with its denuclearization obligations“.

What does this mean? It means that Japan is facing the possibility of being abandoned and essentially betrayed by the US due to a disconnect in their national interests. It means that when push comes to shove, the US cannot be trusted to support Japan. While Bush deals with the question of his legacy, he seems willing to burn his bridges with those that he had seemed so supportive of before. A storm is brewing, and how much damage will occur is anybody’s guess. It may be the clearest test of the popular and political importance of the abduction issue in Japan we can ever see.

The first Abe cabinet was the ‘abduction issue cabinet’. One of Abe’s first moves as Prime Minister was to establish the Headquarters of the Abduction Issue, a body composing the entire cabinet with Abe at the chair. Along with his utsukushii kuni imagery, Abe swooped down on the abduction as though his wings had been unclipped.

Since the build-up to the Pyongyang Summit, Abe had been the abduction issue czar. From 2005, he exercised his power as Chief Cabinet Secretary (which had made such strong reputations for Ichiro Ozawa and Yasuo Fukuda) and pushed the abduction issue globally. He was the man who told Koizumi not to sign the Pyongyang Declaration, and pushed to bring the surviving abductees home and to keep them there.

As Prime Minister, Abe pushed NHK to broadcast more shortwave radio programmes on the abduction issue, began funding the Sukuukai’s Shiokaze programme, and even started a government version too. His whole government worked to bring the abduction issue to the top of everyone’s minds, helped in no small part by the 2006 July missile launches and October nuclear test, and not to forget Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story and Paul Stookey’s Song for Megumi (which has been milked more than a Hokkaido farmer’s cash crop). At the same time, he resolutely refused to give any slack to North Korea in the Six-Party Talks, and looked to be getting left behind.

But has that all changed now? Abe has a new cabinet, and we’re seeing that the government might be softening their line on North Korea. Say it isn’t so!

Read More »

Security on the Korean PeninsulaI just got back from a pretty arduous day. I got up at 5am to take a 3-hour bus ride to Swansea in South Wales for a conference, and I just got back at 10.30pm. The conference was entitled ‘The Domestic and International Dimensions of Security on the Korean Peninsula’ and had a wide range of people talking, and I just want a take a few moments to report the day’s proceedings to you guys.

Firstly, Swansea. It was my first time there, and I think I’ve seen enough of it to not want to go back. While the University of Wales, Swansea was not a bad place, but the city was a shit-hole, to be fair. The contrast between university and city really couldn’t have been more marked as I stood outside the old Singleton Abbey (in which the conference was held) with a park below and the sea in the distance, far better than the grime and tack we saw driving in.

The conference was split into two halves, the domestic and international dimensions. The morning kicked off with a discussion entitled ‘Human Security in the DPRK’. Two of Swansea’s own lecturers gave papers in this session. Professor Michael Sheehan gave one entitled ‘Freedom from Fear: Political Oppression in the DPRK’ regarding the human rights abuses of the Kim regime. It was an interesting paper essentially showing how the DPRK had paid particular attention to the fall of the Ceauşescu regime in Romania and the lessons it drew from that, namely that change is dangerous and the North Korean practice of regime security was effective. Dr Alan Collins then gave a paper on ‘Freedom from Want: Famine and Migration in the DPRK’. Collins essentially outlined the culpability of the regime in the famine, as well as the link between regime security and the Public Distribution System (PDS), the main means through which food was distributed. He then advocated reunification as the best solution for the North Korean people, hoping for a peaceful change and a soft-landing.

The second morning session was on the reunification of Korea. Dr Key-young Son (of Sheffield University) presented a paper entitled ‘Are we near Sunset Boulevard? The Sunshine Policy and an ‘imagined’ road to unification’. It was an interesting discussion of what might happen after the Sunshine Policy hits its shelf-life. Son showed how the dots of economic cooperation in Mount Kumgang and Kaesong would develop, via South Korea’s modernisation of North Korean transportation, into lines linking the key locations of interest for the South Koreans in a cross-DMZ train service (one of the lines went from Seoul to Mt Baekdu). I wasn’t sure whether he was presenting his own projections, or those based on South Korean government desires. The second paper was by Professor Hideya Kurata (Kyorin University in Tokyo) on ‘Building Peace through Security Assurances’. My girlfriend told me she recognised Kurata from TV, and in talking to him she learned that he often gives his opinion to the press as an expert in East Asian international relations, and he has, at some point, been called a ‘North Korea collaborator’ by the press for his down-to-Earth views on the abduction issue (namely that Japan should be far more concerned with denuclearisation). His paper demonstrated the confidence-building measures and extended dialogue in the inter-Korean relationship, as well as peace-building beyond the current day.

The afternoon session on the international dimensions of Korean security began with discussions on the Six-Party Talks. Dr Jianjun Yu (of the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai) discussed China’s perspective in a paper entitled ‘China and Six-Party Talks: Seeking Multilateral Security in East Asia’. He suggested that the Six-Party Talks showed an East Asian conception of conflict resolution, different to that of Europe. In viewing China’s role in the talks, he discussed China’s change in security preferences (bilateral to multilateral engagement), its diplomatic plights (its strategic, moral, economic and political concerns vis a vis the DPRK), and the desire to institutionalise the Six-Party Talks as a multilateral security forum. Dr Russell Ong (University of Manchester) followed this up with a talk on the ‘US and the challenge of North Korea’, essentially running through the US perspective. This was largely reporting on what was already apparent to anyone who watched the news, and thus was the least interesting talk of the day (despite Ong’s engaging presentation technique). The one item that caught my attention was the US as an ‘Asian power’, that is a extraterritorial Great Power in the region.

The final session of the day was the most important and relevant for me, it was entitled ‘Nuclear Proliferation’ but didn’t really settle into this. Dr Christopher Hughes (Warwick University), a key writer on Japan’s defence posture, gave a talk on ‘Japan’s defence posture, missile defence and the response to DPRK nuclear proliferation’. I had no idea he was coming so it was a nice surprise for me. He discussed much along the same lines of my research interests, namely ‘North Korea as existential threat, alliance divider, terror state, and all-purpose pretext’. It was a great, yet brief discussion and I later asked him for his thoughts on the abduction issue, the marginalisation of Japan in the Six-Party Talks, and the effect on the US relationship. He saw Japan as ‘stranded’ and ‘in a corner’ politically, Abe had backed the wrong people (the US neo-cons such as Bolton) and now they are gone or going he is left as the seemingly hard-liner. The two other talks by Dr Seung-young Kim (University of Aberdeen) on the ‘US-South Korean Military Alliance: Impact of DPRK Nuclear Status’, and Unto Vesa (Tampere Peace Research Institute, Finland) on ‘North Korea and the Non-Proliferation Treaty’ largely passed me by (as I attempted to formulate the aforementioned question), although from what I gathered, Dr Kim saw South Korea’s relationship with the US becoming more open to choice, that is that Korea can choose to participate in adventures such as Iraq, unlike its close ties during the Vietnam War, for instance. Vesa showed the progression of the nuclear issue from the first North Korean nuclear physics research lab in 1959, right through the present day. He also saw the denuclearisation talks as a ‘long and winding road’, and essentially futile.

So, that was my day. Anyway, I’m going to go have a long soak in the bath to remove those bus-journey aches. Until next time…

Every man and his dog are discussing the agreement coming out of the Six-Party Talks. It is great that we’ve come so far, but I think there is one actor who is being short-changed here: China. Sure, news reports are giving them a cursory mention, but to me, China is the most important of the five in getting an agreement from the North Koreans. Is this a sign of a diplomatically more mature China? I will investigate this idea through the course of this post.

Firstly I will suggest to you that China’s role in the Six-Party Talks is of prime importance to the agreement. The current phase of the Talks is taking place in Beijing, and the Chinese had laid the groundwork for progress prior to their commencement on the 8th February. Christopher Hill, the top US negotiator at the Talks, commended China for its part in forging the agreement.

One of the key moves to improve the momentum of the Talks was the creation of the simultaneous working groups. One of these working groups gave Japan a forum to discuss the abduction issue in a bilateral framework towards normalising relations without impeding the main talks, although North Korea protested that the issue was resolved. I cannot stress how important this release is for the Talks. The Japanese pursuit of the abduction issue in the main talks was always in danger of derailing the process.

Before I continue, I just want to add some more words about Japan (for a start, it is ground I am far more familiar with). The Japanese still want to resolve the abduction issue, Shinzo Abe and his cabinet are still pushing this issue. However, on the ground there is undoubtedly some change. Despite Japan’s warning that it will not give aid to North Korea until there is some progress on the issue (which indeed is a toning down from ‘resolution’), Japan is still getting involved in the action. At the moment it is likely to assess North Korea’s energy needs, even if it doesn’t help meet them. This is important as Japan MUST stay involved in the process, this is key to Japanese and US interests.

Japan cannot afford to let North Korea’s denuclearisation take place without its input. As a regional power, and the future of that power, it must be able to project its perspective into the Talks. To this end, all six parties should attempt to ensure that the Japan-DPRK working group does not fall through. Progress on the abduction issue is important, but between North Korea’s stance on its resolution and Japan’s hard-line, there is a lot of friction to deal with.

I posited at the start that China’s role in the Six-Party Talks might be evidence of a mature foreign policy. However, there are other issues I have to address first. I will begin with last month’s anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test, before discussing the alternative reason for China’s interest in the Six-Party Talks.

The ASAT test was conducted on 11th January. China launched a rocket missile that made contact with one of its own satellites and successfully destroyed it. This was a worrying development to many and there are a number of reasons which I will address below, before I close the issue with a suggestion that this was not in the realm of foreign policy.

We all use satellites, I know for sure that I need them for the hundreds of channels of rubbish that comes into my TV. In most cases however, they are an invisible presence. If anything, weather forecasting would be even worse without them! However, one particular group of society is deeply reliant on them: the military (or more precisely, the US military). The US military uses satellites in much of its day-to-day operations. They are key to maintaining communication between its globally deployed forces, and much intelligence is derived from them (from the communications intelligence (COMINT) satellites that hoover up signals, to the imagery intelligence (IMINT) satellites that collect photographic data).

One primary use of satellites by the US military (and a great deal of other forces) is the Global Positioning System (GPS). China’s ASAT test might be seen as a direct threat to this system. To make matters worse, China has decoupled itself from the US-controlled GPS and joined the European Union’s Galileo programme that seeks to create a rival network. Indeed, China was the first non-EU state to sign up. So some fear that China’s test means that it could paralyse US systems in the event of conflict.

We should not forget the context of these fears: rising China. This is a direct threat to US hegemony, so the thinking goes. I would wager that a significant number see a second Cold War (and I don’t mean post-detente) or even an all-out conflict between the ascending China and US superpower. I don’t know if you buy into that though, I simply hope that we are beyond the Cold War paradigm and that the US can accommodate the creeping power of China peacefully… assuming China’s power ever reaches that magnitude.

Speaking of the Cold War paradigm, another system threatened by the ASAT test is the ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. This is the spiritual successor to the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI, better known as Star Wars). This is system aims to destroy incoming ballistic missiles. It is heavily reliant on satellites which provide early-warning, tracking and (possibly) kill functions. This is an issue for Japan whose involvement with BMD is for a locally-oriented theatre missile defence (TMD) system. Put simply, the US is attempting to undermine mutually assured destruction (MAD), yet the Chinese have countered these moves with the ASAT test.

This test, despite China’s insistence that it was a weaponisation/militarisation of space, is likely to see the US reconsidering its lack of ASAT capabilities. We could see an ASAT arms race in near future. The norms surrounding the weaponisation of space are enshrined in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (of which China is a signatory since 1989). However, the Outer Space Treaty has not killed all space-based weapons projects, one can see that with SDI in the 1980s. Furthermore, ASAT tests are not covered by the treaty, and the US conducted a test as recently as 1985. China did not vitiate the treaty, it simply has never been relevant.

The ASAT test was not an issue of foreign affairs for China. The test was conducted by the People’s Liberation Army, which has a large amount of independence from yet ties to China’s political institutions. For China, it was a defence or security concern, and that’s how they wished to play it. They attacked their own satellite (a task made easier because of the amount of tracking data one has their own satellites) and thus it was an internal matter… even if it created more debris in the planet’s near-space. The test comes from a different policy-making body than China’s foreign affairs, thus you might (as I am trying to do) argue that this transgression is not evidence of an ‘immature’ foreign policy.

So, back to North Korea. I’m sure you all remember that small incident this summer, oh and the incident a few months later… that’s right, the testing of the Taepodong II missiles and of a nuclear device. Well, it is most plausible that China was deeply embarrassed by the actions of its client state. China secures North Korea’s existence. It has provided aid, arms and political support, stemming from the original support it gave to Kim Il-Sung’s fight for a socialist state. In return, China could keep that particular terrier reined-in; barking, but too restrained to nip your ankles. With the 5th Round (the current one) of the Six-Party Talks underway at that time, North Korea threw away all of China’s goodwill by acting irresponsibly.

China was chastised for North Korea’s actions and it lost face in the Talks. Indeed, it has long been said that until China put pressure on Kim Jong-Il’s regime, there could never be any progress. So perhaps China sought to exercise its control over North Korea by pressing it into the current phase of the Six-Party Talks and securing an agreement so that it could also regain some political capital.

I see no reason why the paternal handling of North Korea and a maturing foreign policy need be mutually exclusive. In order to show the degree of maturity, I have to give further evidence. China is a global actor. It is pursuing a comprehensive development plan that sees it giving money to projects all over the world, particularly in Africa (creating a sphere of influence). It is filling the gaps of the unipolar world in a way that suggests it is ascendant. In its own region, namely Northeast Asia, it is mending bridges with Japan. How long this lasts is another matter… and therein lies the problem.

Deep down, I hope that we are seeing a more responsible China: a China that gets involved in climate change initiatives, peacekeeping, and human rights, but it can only go so far. China may be liberalising, but it is still a socialist state in terms of government. It is still a violator of human rights. China’s regional policy might be maturing, but perhaps it is simply a means of garnering goodwill before next year’s Olympic Games? If it gets the results, does it matter? Who knows… I certainly don’t.