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Discussion on Denuclearization of North Korea

SSDP Discussion Meeting on May 8, 2019

(Tokuchi) Professor Nishino has quoted Kim Jong-un's 2019 New Year's Address. In emphasizing the four NOs, Kim Jong-un declared that North Korea "would neither make and test nuclear weapons ‘any longer' nor use and proliferate them." I think this means that North Korea will not abandon nuclear weapons they possess at present. Is this understanding right? When Kim mentioned denuclearization in his New Year's Address, he did not say the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Is there any particular meaning to the expression?

Another question for Professor Michishita. You have mentioned the control of unstable leaders. What is Kim Jong-un's instability? And as regards North Korea's theft of virtual currencies, how is it done and is there any effective countermeasures against the crime?

(Nishino) Chairman Kim Jong-un is supposed to mean by "not any longer" that North Korea will not create nuclear weapons hereafter, but has not yet decided how to deal with nuclear weapons actually in their possession. As for the four NOs, the conservatives and the progressives in South Korea radically differ in their interpretations --- North Korea will never give up their nuclear weapons, or North Korea will first stop making nuclear weapons and will eventually renounce nuclear weapons in their possession.

It is crystal-clear that the "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" and "denuclearization of North Korea" have different meanings. According to the statement of a North Korean spokesman on July 6, 2016, the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is, for North Korea, an idea encompassing such issues as the presence of US forces in South Korea and the deployment of US strategic weapons around the Korean peninsula. Therefore, the North Korean idea of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is a broader concept distinct from North Korea's denuclearization generally considered by the international community. However, "complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," which has been used since last year, is the wording employed in the Panmunjom Declaration on April 27, 2018. What is problematic in this connection is that the definition of "complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" mentioned in the Panmunjom Declaration has not been defined to date. Although at the Hanoi summit, the United States tried to define the term, North Korea refused a US definition and the talks ended "without agreement."

As Professor Michishita mentioned just now, at the Hanoi summit, North Korea demanded the lifting of economic sanctions, but the United States refused. So, giving up sanctions relief for the time being, North Korea will likely take up again its previous position of starting with the declaration of the end of the Korean War and the opening of a liaison office.

According to media reports, the United States has proposed a "big deal" to exchange North Korea's "complete denuclearization" and "sanctions relief," by following the Libya model. At the same time, however, the United States was reportedly ready to agree to the declaration of the end of the Korean War and the opening of a liaison office, on condition that North Korea first dismantle nuclear facilities in the Nyongbyon area. North Korea may anticipate that sanctions relief will require time, and consider it expedient to first call for the war-end declaration and a liaison office. The North will expect to bargain with the United States about how far the denuclearization process should be advanced to achieve the immediate goals.

(Michishita) I noticed Kim Jong-un's lack of experience twice during the Hanoi summit. First, before the start of negotiations, Kim said nonchalantly, "… from my instincts, I do have a feeling that good results will emerge." Second, it was on the second day of the summit that Kim ventured to answer a question from a media reporter, ignoring Ri Yong-ho's interruption. I felt the North Korean delegation was not working well as a team. Since his inauguration, Kim has demonstrated strange behavior several times--- invited Dennis Rodman (a former US professional basketball star) to Pyongyang; brought foreign reporters to rocket launches; used the Disney character Mickey Mouse without authorization, and visited amusement parks! Kim launched ballistic missiles randomly one after another, and then suddenly stopped. Kim's is a "circus" diplomacy. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once said, "Don't take a gamble on diplomacy." I believe this is an important adage. Kim Jong-un undoubtedly equates diplomacy with gambling.

One of the reasons why North Korea has so far managed to do tolerably well is that North Korea acted in very erratic manner from time to time, but showed some professionalism in avoiding fatal mistakes. However, this regime's management control is now deteriorating. The present North Korean leadership is unscrupulously taking risky actions while a general lack in discipline is notable. Kim Jong-un's inexperience may account in part for the current situation. I have an impression that Kim is swayed too much by the enthusiasm to make North Korea an ordinary country. Since, however, enthusiasm could also be a source of positive change I do not deny that it may lead to a good result. Research on the history of North Korea has convinced me that North Korea, regardless of its radical behavior, demonstrates some prudence. Therefore, the present unprecedented situation is, for me, a bit disturbing.

When it comes to North Korea's theft of virtual currencies, admittedly the North is involved in the cyber crime in various ways; but their crime has so far not had serious damage on the international economy, because it does not involve a large sum of money. In response to North Korea's cyber attacks, South Korea took prompt countermeasures. North Korea's cyber attacks ironically helped raise its enemy's cyber security level. Details of North Korea's theft of virtual currencies are not known. The North seems to outsource part of their operations to Chinese hacker groups through the dark web. One North Korean hacker has been fully identified. He is Park Jin Hyok by name, listed on the FBI's Cyber's Most Wanted. It is certain that North Korea is currently engaged in systematic cyber attacks with considerable capability. Nonetheless, their effects are limited. We have taken advantage of their attacks to solidify our defense.

(Okonogi) First, I would like to ask a question to Professor Nishino. I agree with your discussion on North Korea's reaction; but I wonder if there may be something more to it than that. I think that it is true as you have discussed that North Korea is prepared for a long-term struggle based on a policy of self-reliance. Not that they have abandoned negotiations with the United States, on the contrary they are betting on the bilateral negotiations. What I would like to draw attention to is that they said they would wait for a positive response from the United States until the end of this year. I am entirely in agreement with Professor Nishino that such a delay in negotiations would affect the US Presidential election. However, I do not think that this is everything. North Korea escalated military provocations in 2016-17 and conducted ICBM tests. It was an agreed upon view then that what remained for North Korea to do was to develop re-entry technology for nuclear warheads. Therefore, a plausible interpretation is that the failure of the Hanoi summit will lead the North back to provocations. While exploring the possibility of further negotiations, they may be likely to make preparations and resume provocations. The recent launch of a short-range guided weapon may be considered the first step to resume provocations. While President Trump says that he would not mind if negotiations took ten years time, North Korea is directly challenging the US President. North Korea had negotiated with the United States for a year since the first summit in Singapore and will wait for another year from the Hanoi talks --- they will thereby gain two years for a further development of missiles. Unless the United States abandons the American style of evaluation, North Korea might surreptitiously complete re-entry technology for nuclear warheads and succeed in ICBM development. How should we address this "ultimate threat" scenario, which would be a life or death choice for North Korea?

Another comment of mine concerns China. When I was talking with Chinese experts, they predicted that the mutual visits between the leaders of China and North Korea would take place this year. China wants Kim Jong-un to attend the ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China this October. At the time of the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan last year, South Korean President Park Geun-hye was invited. This time China is seeking to invite Kim Jong-un to this year's anniversary ceremony. To this end, Xi Jinping will have to visit Pyongyang no later than this summer. Then, Kim Jong-un will pay a return visit to Beijing this autumn, standing on Tiananmen gate tower as Park Geun-hye did last year. According to Chinese experts this is a plausible scenario. It is necessary, however, to consider another scenario, namely what will happen in the China-North Korea relationship, if the first scenario fails to realize.

At the time of the Hanoi summit, the North-South Korean dialogue and the US-North Korea negotiations were conducted in parallel. There were three protagonists on that occasion. However, since Kim Jong-un visited China four times in connection with the summit, it may be said that the summit was actually held among the "three plus one." This negotiation framework was undone in Hanoi. The North-South Korean dialogue has come to a standstill because the US-North Korea negotiations were at a stalemate. If the two sets of talks do not progress, some change will occur, and the relationship between China and North Korea may become closer, or alternatively, more distant. North Korea may be considering various scenarios.

Japan's North Korea policy will ultimately depend on how North Korea will react. Will Kim Jong-un abide by the conventional policy of dealing directly with President Trump, waving off Japan, or will he welcome the opportunity of negotiating with Japan to encourage talks with the United States by way of Japan. I cannot tell at this moment which scenario is accurate. Even if Prime Minister Abe participated in negotiations with North Korea, the negotiations, I am afraid, would turn out to be similar to those with Russia. How should he solve the abduction issue, which is as hard to address as the territorial issue with Russia? Unless Japan lowers considerably the negotiation barrier, the problem will not be solved. However, the abductees' families in Japan will not agree to lower the barrier. Since North Korea has no means to know PM Abe's true thinking, they may regard Japan's overture for negotiations as a trap.

(Nishino) Although the possibility of the worst case noted by Professor Okonogi cannot be excluded, ultimately it will depend on how North Korea evaluates the person of Donald Trump. The reason why President Trump is satisfied to some extent with the current situation is that North Korea has stopped conducting nuclear tests and ICBM launches. It will be crucial to see how North Korea understand President Trump's "Red Line." In addition, I think another important point to consider is how far China should condone North Korea's provocative behavior. In other words, North Korea will decide the course of its future actions, taking into account its relationship with the United States as well as with China.

(Okonogi) Allow me to add some words. When North Korea resumes its provocations, they will not only escalate provocations but will do so with a sensitive timing near the US Presidential election to make their provocations more effective. They will try to show with this difficult (for the US) timing that the Trump diplomacy toward North Korea has failed.

(Nishino) Certainly, North Korea has an "experience of success" when in October 2006, toward the end of the Bush administration, North Korea came to the bargaining table with the United States after nuclear test provocations, extracting concessions from the United States. This time North Korea may consider such factors in deciding the course of its future actions namely that it has to negotiate with the unpredictable Donald Trump; and President Trump is a strong candidate for a second term as US presidency.

I would appreciate if Professor Kawashima could comment on the mutual visits of the leaders of China and North Korea. Kim Jong-un's expected visit to Beijing on October 1 this year will be meaningful to China. Meanwhile, many people estimate that Xi Jinping will visit Pyongyang this year. I would like to hear from you, an expert on Chinese politics, about how much China considers the October 1 event important in the light of the China-North Korea relationship.

(Michishita) I think there is a possibility that North Korea will resume provocations. During the second round of nuclear crisis, North Korea launched missiles on July 4, 2006 and carried out its first nuclear test in October of the same year. Also at the time of the 1994 crisis, North Korea fanned a sense of crisis by means of verbal intimidation ("Turn Seoul into a sea of fire.") or by flying a large number of fighter aircraft at one time. As Professor Nishino pointed out, North Korea's excessive provocations would invite the risk of frustrating the bilateral negotiations. As Professor Okonogi said, North Korea would escalate provocations, capitalizing on the US domestic political situation. In that case, it is feared that President Trump will make use of North Korean provocations to create a sense of crisis, thereby raising his own approval ratings. This would be the worst scenario and one for Japan to avoid --- a North Korean crisis looming over Japan before the Tokyo Olympics.

It was in 1988-1989, 2000, 2002, and 2014 that North Korea tried to talk to Japan. It was when the North was unable to negotiate with the United States. My impression is that North Korea did not approach Japan to overcome crises. It seems to me that North Korea approached Japan in the past when it was ignored by the United States. Of course this is a pattern that would change depending on the situation.

(Okonogi) In that case, since the Abe-Trump partnership is working well, President Trump may entrust PM Abe for a time to handle North Korea diplomacy, or PM Abe may be considered the best intermediary to persuade President Trump. This has nothing to do with whether or not PM Abe has ever negotiated with North Korea.

(Akiyama) Professor Kawashima, I would like to ask for your comments on the China-North Korea relationship --- not only on that, but also on related issues from the standpoint of China. For example, we have discussed the collapse of the US-ROK alliance, and South Korea's position on that matter. I think these are significant issues for Japan and for China as well.

(Kawashima) Around March this year, the spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at a press conference, "China and North Korea maintain good friendly relations. When Chairman Xi goes to Pyongyang, we will advise you in advance" in answering a question about the possibility of Xi Jinping's visit to North Korea. This remark was interpreted as being affirmative on Xi's visit. Simultaneously, sometime just before April, China stressed that 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea, and a move began for the diplomatic normalization between the two countries. Kim Jong-un then visited Beijing, and there were a series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. On the occasion of those events, Xi Jinping made a comment that the two countries' relationship would advance a step forward this year. So, there was a feeling in April that Xi Jinping would go to Pyongyang.

The second point is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. It does not necessarily appear in senior-level remarks, but may appear to justify Xi's visit to North Korea in addition to the 70th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. It seems not to necessarily have appeared in senior -level remarks.

The third point is about the timing of the mutual visits, which is closely connected with North Korea and China's relationship with the United States --- the United States, China and North Korea form a triangle, each occupying a corner. At the recent US-China talks, President Trump got angry, almost losing his temper. Regarding the issue of intellectual property right, the United States may have felt insulted, because China unilaterally declared that the measures they had earlier promised to implement by law should be confirmed by a simple statement. This seems to be the reason that the US side became very angry. Meanwhile, an increasing number of Chinese ships navigated near the Senkaku islands in March and April this year. This may be related to a conservative backlash that seems to be in progress in China. Since the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs in June last year, the Chinese moderates have gained power and proposed concessions to get along with the United States. Now, some backlash is expected to happen. In the midst of these circumstances, the progress of North Korea's negotiations with the United States and Xi Jinping's visit to Pyongyang are linked to one another. The more the United States adopts a hawkish stance against North Korea, the more the North will look to China for help. Being aware that North Korea is observing the current China-US standoff, China may mull over the timing of Xi's visit to Pyongyang --- after the settlement of disputes with the United States, or rather at the time of a confrontation, carrying a proposal of facing jointly the pressing challenges posed by the United States. The course of events in the future cannot be foreseen. My perception is that China would react in either of the two scenarios described above.

Mr. Akiyama's question on how to see the US-ROK alliance is linked to the current situation in Taiwan. As this year falls on an election year in Taiwan, China is making outright intervention in Taiwan's internal affairs. The Japanese media does not report on this. In the neighborhood of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association's Taipei office, a demonstration occurred in early May, and some KMT leaders forced themselves into the office more than once. Utilizing the KMT, the Chinese Communist Party is increasing its activity in Taiwan. On the other hand, in South Korea, an anti-US movement has been increasing since last year, calling for the scrapping of the US-ROK alliance or reverting to the era of the Acheson Line. In that sense China is very sensitive to the fate of the faltering US-ROK military alliance and to the Taiwan's unstable domestic situation. This, however, may not necessarily be because the United States has become indifferent to the US-ROK alliance. The US attitude to Taiwan is different. There are quite a few people in Washington who argue that the United States should protect Taiwan by all means and should be more involved in Taiwan affairs than before. Bolstered by such opinions, Tsai Ing-wen abruptly proposed a military dialogue with Japan in a Sankei Shimbun article. Ordinary Japanese people may find difficulties in grasping the real intent of such a proposal. But viewed from Washington, this is not necessarily a strange proposal. The South Korean problem and the Taiwan problem are eliciting out different reactions from Washington. The Trump administration seems not to demonstrate consistency in its diplomacy on South Korea and Taiwan.

(Hiraizumi) Basically, as Professor Michishita said, I think the US-North Korea issue will depend on political trends in the United States. We cannot discuss this problem with no knowledge of US intentions. I was in the United States in early May and watched CNN and Fox News alternately every hour. Unexpectedly, their contents were so widely apart or almost opposite that I could not believe I was watching news on the same topic in the same country. Among major topics I noted then were the Russia gate scandal, still a significant problem; the treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and health insurance; the abolishment of Obamacare declared by Attorney General Barr, and the emergence of Joe Biden as a Democratic presidential candidate, who is popular and is expected to win votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and to become a huge threat to President Trump.

The other thing that is of concern to me is that the United States seems to be going further to subvert the present regime in Iran than merely intensifying sanctions against the country, or by mounting pressure by dispatching troops. Is the case of Iran connected in some way or another with the North Korean issue? How will the United States address the problems of North Korea and Iran in the course of the upcoming election campaign? Intuitively I believe that the Iran issue is much more important because of the existence of Israel, while North Korea seems to be just a minor issue. In fact, during my recent stay in the United States, most news programs did not cover North Korea, and the question of Iran was given much more media exposure. I think it will be necessary to see how policy priorities will change and which policy will affect the elections. With regard to North Korea, everything will depend on which stage the United States will aim at in its five-step reactions explained by professor Nishino --- (1) North Korean regime guarantee; (2) the declaration of the end of the Korean War; (3) the establishment of a liaison office; (4) sanctions relief, and (5) economic cooperation.

(Michishita) Let's say something about Joe Biden who has recently come to the fore. The Democratic Party is now relatively inclined to the left; therefore, a libertarian Bernie Sanders is quite powerful. It is feared that the Democratic Party will split and not have the support of young people.

(Hiraizumi) According to a CNN public opinion poll, the Democratic Party places top priority on the removal of Trump or on the nomination of a presidential candidate who could beat Trump. Joe Biden has the possibility of becoming the Democratic Party candidate for the 2020 US presidential election. Bernie Sanders is considered to lean too much to the left to win the presidential election. Unless Biden becomes involved in a scandal until November next year, he will become the Democratic Party candidate. According to the current CNN public opinion poll, Trump will lose to Biden. Incidentally, in case of Beto O'Rourke vs. Trump, the latter is also expected to lose. The opponent whom Trump could beat is only Elizabeth Warren.

(Nishino) Returning to the North Korean issue, probably the gravest concern is that President Trump is losing interest in it. As his interest in it diminishes, the United States will not lower the negotiation threshold. As a consequence, there is the likelihood that the current stalled situation will continue until into 2020 or beyond. In that situation, will North Korea make a compromise, or resort to brinksmanship? Ultimately, I think North Korea will lower the negotiation threshold, but it is uncertain whether the United States will accept it. Unless President Trump pays attention again to the North Korean issue in connection with the US presidential election, the current stalemate may remain unchanged.

(Michishita) North Korea fears most being neglected. In that sense, nobody can deny the possibility that North Korea will call upon Japan for economic aid in 2020 when Japan will be most apprehensive about provocations by North Korea in connection with the Tokyo Olympics. It is a technique of the kind that would work only for about a year. One of the options for Japan to take may be to provide financial assistance and persuade the North not to behave irresponsibly during the Olympic period.

(Yoshida) Why did President Trump allow his followers to restrain him?

(Michishita) According to Mr. Makino of the Asahi Shimbun, when President Trump was about to make a compromise at the summit meeting in Hanoi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pulled him out of the room, warned him by saying, "If you concede here, you will not be re-elected." Given Michael Cohen's congressional testimony, President Trump accepted the warning and after this he became very tough. I do not know if this scene actually happened, but I think the story is credible. From today's vantage point, Cohen's testimony held President Trump back from rushing into a compromise.

(Nishino) It seems to me that national security adviser John Bolton played a certain role. Negotiations on the so-called "appropriate measures" taken by the United States made progress on the occasions of US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun's visit to Pyongyang in early February and the Hanoi summit in mid-February. On the other hand, however, no agreement was reached on concrete measures for the denuclearization North Korea. As a result, the US delegation including Bolton and Pompeo seems to have decided to attend the Hanoi summit with a rather hard position. The Hanoi summit ended "without agreement," and was also adversely affected by Michael Cohen's testimony before Congress.

(This paper was translated into English by Tsutomu Inuzuka, SSDP Associate)

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