In history, things occur from time to time for no logical reason. Take the Pacific War. If you give it serious thought, Japan was in no position to wage war against the world. But Japan entered the war, thinking it could not stop anymore, with the army and navy both building up forces. Common sense does not apply on certain occasions.
If we take a page from history, the optimistic belief that North Korea will not take military action is meaningless. We will have no problem if Kim Jong Un's transition to power goes smoothly and he controls the military. But he is said to be only 28 years old, which gives us cause for much anxiety.
North Korea has learned how to maintain its regime after the collapse of dictatorships such as the Soviet Union, Romania and Iraq. The country has controlled free speech and information, encouraged people to spy on one another, unduly favored the armed forces and intimidated other countries with its nuclear development. But it has been an extremely dangerous game.
The death of Kim Jong Il could bring those dangers to the surface. Some people may begin to say they cannot leave the nation in the hands of a young third-generation leader as young as 28, leading to feuding within the leadership. Such events would increase the risk of a collapse of the regime. China holds the key to prevent such a scenario.
China must be privately feeling embittered with North Korea. Pyongyang has not reformed or opened up its economy and has refused to relinquish its nuclear development program. Left to itself, the country could invade its southern neighbor. It's a real headache.
China wants to prevent a violent disturbance on the Korean Peninsula at any cost. The country, being an ally of North Korea, would be dragged into war. Refugees would swarm to borders between the two countries. Lastly, a pro-U.S. unified Korea would emerge out of the turmoil. These are the three reasons why Beijing cannot come down hard on Pyongyang.
I suggest that Japan, the United States and South Korea take the lead in eliminating these concerns on the part of the Chinese. The three countries may propose that should North Korea invade South Korea, China can join them in dealing with the situation under a U.N.-led framework. The United Nations may be asked to take care of refugees, and efforts may be made to keep a unified Korea from leaning toward the United States. Once these mechanisms are in place, China can give guidance to keep North Korea from collapsing, and North Korea cannot be reckless.
To take those initiatives, it is essential that Japan, the United States and South Korea fully communicate with one another. The issue of "comfort women" has resurfaced as a concern between Japan and South Korea. The Japanese government must maintain its traditional stance, but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda must resolve the issue by explaining, in all sincerity, the feeling of regret Japan has expressed.
Those who come to power cannot gain experience on foreign policy or national security overnight. But it is a mistake to take advantage of these issues for partisan interests.
The Liberal Democratic Party, with its experience, may be asked to fulfill its responsibility. The government may seek a voter mandate after discussing key policy issues, such as tax reform, energy and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with opposition parties and reaching conclusions during the next ordinary Diet session.
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Shigeru Ishiba, a Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party, is a former Defense Minister.
This article is based on an interview by Takafumi Yoshida.
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