North Korea risks closing door to dialogue with senseless provocations

KCNA via REUTERS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a ceremony to inaugurate the start of construction on the first phase of a project to eventually build 50,000 new apartments, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released March 24, 2021 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

This is a succession of military provocations by North Korea. The Japanese government must rationally analyze Pyongyang’s intentions and take measures to deal with the issue in cooperation with the United States, South Korea and other countries concerned.

North Korea has fired at least two ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan. They appear to have fallen inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone after following irregular trajectories. The government must verify whether Japan’s detection and other measures were sufficient.

U.N. Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from firing ballistic missiles, and these launches are a clear violation. It is only natural for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to have criticized the launches as “outrageous, a threat to the peace and security of our country and the region.”

North Korea just announced on Sept. 13 that it had successfully test-fired a new long-range cruise missile capable of reaching Japan. Since launching short-range ballistic missiles in March this year, North Korea had refrained from making any conspicuous provocations. Do the recent actions mean that Pyongyang has changed its tactic to increase tensions?

There are concerns that, in the future, North Korea will go so far as to test-fire ballistic missiles with a longer range or submarine-launched ballistic missiles, escalating the situation. It is essential for Japan, the United States and South Korea to strengthen their surveillance readiness.

North Korea’s aim is to lift economic sanctions through dialogue with the United States while retaining its nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang seems to believe it can gain the upper hand in negotiations with the United States through a military buildup and ostentation. This is the same wishful thinking as ever.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has told North Korea that the United States is ready to hold working-level talks unconditionally. The administration of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should be aware that military provocations would only result in North Korea itself closing the door to dialogue and the lifting of sanctions.

The United States has been focusing on its foreign policies regarding China, and has also been forced to respond to sudden changes in the situation in Afghanistan. It is true that the priority of the North Korean issue has been lowered, but the United States surely cannot leave unattended a situation that could destabilize East Asia.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said there have been signs that North Korea has restarted its nuclear reactors. There is also an urgent need to deal with this nuclear threat.

Japan, the United States and South Korea have confirmed their close cooperation for the complete denuclearization of North Korea during talks among high-ranking officials in Tokyo. The three countries need to once again coordinate their policies and come up with clear strategies in light of Pyongyang’s repeated provocations.

As long as North Korea continues its nuclear and missile development, it is necessary to consider strengthening sanctions. Japan should also urge China and Russia so that the U.N. Security Council can take new steps.

China, which has influence over North Korea, must fulfill its responsibility as a major power by strictly implementing sanctions.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 16, 2021.