Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the importance of peaceful diplomacy to resolve the North Korean crisis on Monday, but he added that mere dialogue would be “meaningless.”
“Needless to say, it’s important to maintain peace through diplomatic efforts. At the same time, dialogue for the sake of dialogue would be meaningless. We need to put pressure on North Korea so that it will seriously respond to calls for dialogue,” Abe told his parliament, as reported by Japan Times.
There is a rather fine line between meaningful and “meaningless” dialogue. Abe seems to be looking for a way to gently but firmly demand real actions from North Korea to back up their words, rather than the diplomatic merry-go-round the world has been riding with Pyongyang since the 1990s. He is suggesting North Korea must take a few concrete steps before all parties resume cordial conversations around the negotiating table.
The Prime Minister rather ominously used part of his appearance before the Diet committee to discuss the steps Japan should take to prepare for an influx of refugees from the Korean Peninsula in the event of a conflict, and stressed his government’s responsibility for “protecting and rescuing Japanese citizens if they face crises overseas.” There are about 60,000 Japanese citizens on the Korean peninsula.
The Associated Press reports that last Friday, Abe’s National Security Council met to discuss the possibility that a wave of refugees from North Korea could include armed soldiers hiding among the refugees, seeking to enter Japan so they could carry out terrorist attacks.
Another difficult point raised by the Associated Press is that Japan’s government is drawing up plans to pre-position planes and ships in South Korea to assist with the evacuation of Japanese nationals in the event of hostilities, but the South Koreans may be uncomfortable with the presence of massed Japanese transports at their airfields and ports, due to long memories of World War II.
On Tuesday, Abe had a working lunch with visiting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who said President Donald Trump is “determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region, and with China, to achieve a peaceable solution and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
A Japanese official told Kyodo News that Pence told Abe the U.S. believes “China fully understands the issue and will take action that will lead to further pressure on North Korea.”
After the lunch, Pence held a press conference with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso in which he declared “to all the people of Japan, in these challenging times, we are with you 100 percent.”
Pence also repeated the Trump administration’s point that North Korea is “the most ominous threat” in the region, and “the era of strategic patience is over.” He reportedly endorsed Abe’s statement that “dialogue for dialogue’s sake is meaningless.”