The Denuclearization of North Korea and the Takeshima Issue

Masahiro Akiyama
President, Akiyama Associates

This presentation is intended to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea and the Takeshima issue. I would like to first review the security environment in Northeast Asia and then discuss these two issues in the context of Northeast Asian security.

(The Security Environment in Northeast Asia)

1 The most serious structural challenge to the security of Northeast Asia is China's growth into a superpower. China has strengthened its military power thanks to the rapid expansion of its economy. Resultantly, tensions are mounting between China and neighboring countries. Opinions prevail that China is pursuing hegemony. On the other hand, the US recommitment to Asia has led to the current US-China confrontation.

2 The development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles North Korea has pursued since the end of the Cold War is not only a specific security challenge in Northeast Asia, but also a military threat against the broader Northeast Asian region including the United States.

3 A factor destabilizing the security of Northeast Asia is that the divided countries --- the remnants of the Cold War --- are still confronting: China versus Taiwan, and North Korea versus South Korea. These divide countries engaged in serious armed conflicts or warfare with each other after the end of the Second World War, and as a result there still remain severe military confrontations between them. These confrontations contribute to increasing tensions in the security environment in Northeast Asia.

4 Since the completion of the Second World War, territorial disputes have continued in Northeast Asia for more than half a century. There are various territorial disputes between Japan and China; Japan and South Korea; Japan and Russia; China and Russia; China and India, and among the South China Sea coastal countries. Since some countries have resorted to armed force or state force, tensions exist at all times.

5 With the enactment of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, various conflicts have surfaced among coastal countries, or between coastal countries and non-coastal, major maritime powers, with respect to marine resources development, marine environmental conservation, use of the ocean, etc.

(The Denuclearization of North Korea)

6 After the inauguration of the Kim Jong-un regime, North Korea rapidly advanced the development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and tensions increasingly mounted in and after 2016 between the United States and North Korea. The United States under the Trump administration strongly reacted to North Korea's adventurous behavior, and strengthened UN sanctions against the country. Then there came a situation where even the possibility of military conflicts between the two countries could not be eliminated.

7 Since the fall of 2017, however, North Korea has carefully shifted toward reconciliation processes with South Korea and the United States. And there were held an inter-Korean summit meeting in April 2018 and the first US-North Korea summit meeting in June 2018. The Panmunjom Declaration was issued at the former meeting, while the US-North Korean Summit Joint Statement at the latter summit.

8 North Korea announced that if, in the processes of negotiations, the North Korean regime were guaranteed, it would pledge the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. As its first step toward the denuclearization process, North Korea refrained from additional nuclear development, long-range missile development, and experiments or launches. The United States also cancelled joint military drills with South Korea as a gesture to the North. The both parties agreed to pursue, through further talks, the denuclearization of North Korea and a guarantee for the North Korean regime (security guarantee).

9 North Korea, however, has so far failed to clarify the process of denuclearization. On the other hand, the United States has not taken a positive attitude to any mitigation of sanctions that would lead to a guarantee for North Korean regime, or to the conclusion of an inter-Korean peace agreement that would appease military tensions in the Korean Peninsula. Currently, with the US political schedule in view, the United States and North Korea are negotiating about the agenda and timing of the second US-North Korea summit meeting (in February 2019). Some signals will come out from the coming summit to expedite the implementation of the June 2018 Joint Statement.

10 It is of a primary importance to fully realize the denuclearization of North Korea; but this immediately presents another difficult question of what is a complete denuclearization of North Korea. Meanwhile, if the inter-Korean reconciliation, which is to constitute an important pillar for the guarantee of the North Korean regime, is realized, what then will be the reason for or the significance of the prolonged stay of the United States Forces Korea? The reduction or withdrawal of the USFK would help make the security of Northeast Asia tremendously unstable.

(The Takeshima issue)

11 Takeshima (the Dokdo in Korean) is a group of islets located in the waters between the San'in district of the Japanese Archipelagoes and the Korean Peninsula. Japan established its territorial rights in the mid-17th century, and in 1905, in accordance with prescribed procedures, incorporated it into the Shimane prefecture. Japan has effectively controlled Takeshima for a long time. Takeshima is, therefore, indisputably an inherent part of the territory of Japan. In January 1952, South Korean President Syngman Rhee made a "Maritime Sovereignty Declaration," and set unilaterally the so-called "Syngman Rhee Line" in defiance of international law, in order to create a wide area of maritime sovereignty. South Korea established its fishery jurisdiction over a vast expanse of waters encompassed by the "Syngman Rhee Line." Thus Takeshima was included inside the illegally declared South Korean maritime boundary. Since then, in defiance of continuing protests from Japan, South Korea has continued its illegal occupation of Takeshima by stationing a garrison there.

12 In order to settle this issue peacefully, Japan repeatedly proposed by note verbale to South Korea that the two countries' dispute over the territorial rights of Takeshima should be referred to the International Court of Justice. South Korea has been refusing Japan's proposal. Recently, the South Korean President and Diet members landed on Takeshima to assert the country's territorial rights over the islets, exacerbating this territorial dispute.

13 Between Japan and South Korea, in addition to this Takeshima territorial dispute, there are history-related issues such as comfort women and forced labor, and disputes have been fueled under the Moon Jae-in administration. It is not an exaggeration to say that both Japan and South Korea are in de facto under an "alliance relationship," given that both of them are US allies. Due to the current difficult bilateral relationship, security problems are occurring in Northeast Asia, especially in terms of Japan-South Korea relations.

14 The current strained Japan-South Korea relations have a negative effect on the denuclearization of North Korea and on the reconciliation of North and South Koreas. If North Korea is earnest in the inter-Korean reconciliation, the normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan will also be taken up for discussion. On that occasion, the Takeshima issue will also be debated, along with the abduction issue existing between Japan and North Korea. The strained Japan-South Korea relations will bring a difficulty to the normalization talks.

15 As far as territorial issues are concerned, any independent sovereign state cannot make an easy concession. In order to settle them peacefully, there is no alternative but to rely on the functions of the ICJ. For the establishment of peace and stability in Northeast Asia, it is of vital importance to solve the following challenges concurrently: the North Korea's denuclearization; the South-North reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula; discord between the divided countries, and various conflicts in the East and South China Seas. Japan and South Korea must reconfirm their strategic relationships and make efforts to solve those problems in accordance with international laws including UNCLOS.

current topics