Weekend Summary: Jan 9 2011
On Jan 5, the North Korea’s state media carried an open-armed call for the resumption of reunification talks.
“It is the review of the past three years that the issue of inter-Korean relations can never be solved by confrontation but it only sparks off an armed clash and war.
In order to mend the north-south relations now at the lowest ebb …. We call for an unconditional and early opening of talks between the authorities having real power and responsibility, in particular.
[…] We are ready to meet anyone anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones, if he or she is willing to go hands in hands with us.
For the great cause of the nation present is more important than yesterday and tomorrow is dearer than present.”
Although Prof. Kim Yong Hyun of Dongguk University in Seoul called it “a message targeted at China and the US,” the US was skeptical, however some suggest the offer led to US and South Korean military units standing down from their special standby alert status.
For his part, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara suggested that “if North Korea takes concrete steps, there is no reason for us to reject the reopening of the six-party talks as China has proposed.” There remains, of course, the ever-present worry that entering talks will simply give the North Koreans the attention they wanted. He also planned to “strengthen cooperation with China and Russia” by dispatching Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau and Japan’s top envoy to the six-party talks, to Beijing and Moscow to ask for their cooperation.
Whatever North Korea’s motives, all sides understand that dialogue must be continued in the future, the real question is under what framework should we talk, and who should be at the table.
On Jan 7, Maehara met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean Foreign and Trade Minister Kim Sung Hwan in the US for discussions on US-Japan security. They agreed to review the “Common Strategic Objectives” drawn up in 2005 with China’s naval advances in mind, as well as to cooperate in resource security following the China’s rare earth gambits.
Maehara and Clinton also discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the thorny issue of the Marine Corps air base at Futenma. Maehara apparently told Clinton that Japan was working “to obtain the [Okinawa Prefecture’s] consent,’ which was taken to be a plea for US understanding of Japan‘s stance of not setting a deadline for settlement of the issue. Coincidentally, DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada began a two-day visit to Okinawa today to discuss the Futenma problem with locals.
After meeting with Clinton, Maehara and Kim met National Security Advisor Tom Donilon where discussion of the North Korea issue continued.
After the flurry of news from China’s military over the New Year period, the hand-wringing continues. The J-20 is big news, picked up by the Wall Street Journal and CNN. It’s been thoroughly examined, as much as grainy photos allow, and used as a stick to bash the Pentagon’s recently announced budget cuts.
There has been further worry that China now has a taste for aircraft carriers. After the earlier news that the carrier formerly known as Varyag was now up and running, a Hong Kong businessman seems intent on buying the former jewel of the British Royal Navy, HMS Invincible. The move has understandably raised concerns in defence circles.
However, the real worrying news came from a Kyodo News press release that China would “consider launching a preemptive nuclear strike if the country finds itself faced with a critical situation in a war with another nuclear state.” If true, this would be contrary to China’s long-standing commitment to never consider pre-emptive nuclear strikes. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denied the report and labelled the report “groundless and out of ulterior motives.” It seems that the ‘documents’ that Kyodo News used for their reports may be more than five years old, and while the authors were from the PLA, it is unclear how official this debate has been, let alone whether it has been adopted or not.
Presumably, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will discuss this issue during his three-day visit to China this month to try to increase the rising powers transparency by encouraging dialogue, particularly between the two countries’ militaries. There will be plenty more to discuss, but there is some concern that the diplomatic front will have little effect on China’s expanding military. Gates will drop by Japan and South Korea after his visit, and Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Washington on Jan 19.
Meanwhile, China and Japan met to discuss counterterrorism cooperation and French counter-intelligence began an informal investigation of possible Chinese industrial espionage at Renault, a French car manufacturer.
Japan confirms it will run in the election for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2012-13. Japan first publicly stated its desire for permanent seat since 1968 (see Ch. 19 in Japan’s International Relations, edited by Glenn D Hook ).
USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, will be conducting exercises in Japanese waters in the East China Sea on Jan 10. The drills with the MSDF will include communications and cross-decking practice. Some say that the Carl Vinson will be covering for the George Washington which is dock-bound for maintenance.
- Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara at CSIS
- The comeback of North Korea-Japan negotiations?
- U.S. Envoy: Productive Talks on Koreas
- US hopeful of consensus on NKorea (sfgate.com)
- US Envoy Says He Had Productive Talks on Koreas (abcnews.go.com)
- Seiji Maehara and unrealistic expectations in Washington (dispatchjapan.com)
- Maehara hopes 2011 yields North dialogue (search.japantimes.co.jp)
- Is the US Giving Into North Korea By Offering Talks? (rokdrop.com)
- North Korea urges talks with South within weeks – AFP (news.google.com)
- North Korea again proposes talks with South Korea (sfgate.com)
- South Korea to Review North Korea’s Latest Call for Unconditional Talks – Bloomberg (news.google.com)
- South Korea Rejects North’s Overture as Not ‘Sincere Enough’ (businessweek.com)