Differences emerge in approach of Seoul, Tokyo

JAPANESE DEFENCE MINISTER ITSUNORI ONODERA
JAPANESE DEFENCE MINISTER ITSUNORI ONODERA
SOUTH KOREAN DEFENCE CHIEF SONG YOUNG MOO
SOUTH KOREAN DEFENCE CHIEF SONG YOUNG MOO

Minutes after Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera reminded the audience of North Korea's past duplicity, his South Korean counterpart Song Young Moo said that being suspicious of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's intentions would get in the way of the peace process.

Sitting side by side at a panel discussion on de-escalating the North Korean crisis at the Shangri-La Dialogue yesterday, the two ministers displayed stark differences in their approach towards the issue.

Mr Onodera said: "In the light of how North Korea has behaved in the past, I believe it is important not to reward North Korea solely for agreeing to have a dialogue."

He cited historical examples in his speech, saying: "North Korea would declare to denuclearise, thereby portraying itself as conciliatory and forthcoming, only to turn around and avoid all international efforts towards peace."

For instance, he noted that Pyongyang promised to give up all nuclear weapons as well as its nuclear programmes in the 2005 Six-Party Talks, but went ahead with its first nuclear experiment in 2006 and halted its ballistic missile launches only last year.

But Mr Song, during the question-and-answer session, said: "The times are different. North Korea has a new leader now. And I believe that North Korea is looking to change the course of history and is making a decisive action towards that.

CAUTIOUS

In the light of how North Korea has behaved in the past, I believe it is important not to reward North Korea solely for agreeing to have a dialogue... North Korea would declare to denuclearise, thereby portraying itself as conciliatory and forthcoming, only to turn around and avoid all international efforts towards peace.

JAPANESE DEFENCE MINISTER ITSUNORI ONODERA

PAST IS PAST

Just because we have been tricked by North Korea before does not guarantee we will be tricked in the future. If we start to think like this, then we can never negotiate with them and we can never look to achieve peace with them.

SOUTH KOREAN DEFENCE CHIEF SONG YOUNG MOO

"Just because we have been tricked by North Korea before does not guarantee we will be tricked in the future. If we start to think like this, then we can never negotiate with them and we can never look to achieve peace with them," he said.

The defence ministers also addressed the issue of what complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula would entail, in response to questions from security analysts who asked if North Korea would be prepared to give up its hard-won arsenal, and if other countries would be able to accept North Korea keeping its short-range ballistic missiles, for instance.

Mr Onodera said: "Our common understanding is that short-range missiles are included under all ballistic missiles and need to be abandoned. This is what we're going to demand from North Korea."

But Mr Song said he believed that "such threats will eventually dissipate over time" as North Korea joins the international community.

"There's no reason for them to develop and maintain a weapon they do not need to use, because this limits the resources they could use for economic development," he added.

Japan was firm that pressure on North Korea to denuclearise should continue, even as it noted US President Donald Trump's latest comments that he looked forward to the day he could remove the sanctions on North Korea.

Mr Onodera said the international community and defence authorities should ensure North Korea continues to rid itself of its nuclear weapons even after it begins taking concrete steps to begin denuclearisation.

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, another member of the panel, also said that while the diplomatic detente was steps in the right direction, "we must not forget that anything short of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation is unacceptable".

He added that there was no plan to seek regime change or the collapse of North Korea, so long as it agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Mr Song was in agreement on this point, saying Seoul had no desire for the North to collapse, nor reunification via artificial means.

He said: "Success is dependent on the international community's consistent approach.

"We urge the international community to stand in unity to make sure North Korea continues along the path of denuclearisation," said the South Korean minister.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 03, 2018, with the headline 'Differences emerge in approach of Seoul, Tokyo'. Print Edition | Subscribe