Japan's Responses to the North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Responsive Engagement Perspectives

By Nakato, Sachio | The Journal of East Asian Affairs, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Japan's Responses to the North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Responsive Engagement Perspectives


Nakato, Sachio, The Journal of East Asian Affairs


Abstract

There are two predominant views of Japan's foreign policies specifically in regard to its North Korean policy. On one hand, some emphasize the Japanese dependence on the United States and assert that Japan can even be seen as a client state or dependent state. On the other hand, others warn of the possibility that Japan might go nuclear. These two views portray Japanese foreign policy in quite different lights. This paper suggests that neither of the above expressed views encompass the true nature of Japan's North Korean policy and instead employs the concept of responsive engagement in order to explain Japanese foreign policy toward North Korea. Responsive engagement argues that it is virtually impossible for Japan to go nuclear as long as the U.S.-Japanese alliance exists and domestic norms on nuclear weapons continue in Japan. The paper also suggests that responsive engagement is different from the concept of the client or puppet state in the sense that Japan pursues its own national interests, though the strategic alliance with the U.S. does heavily influence Japanese foreign policy toward North Korea.

Key words: North Korea, Client State, Nuclear Japan, Responsive Engagement, U.S.-Japan Relations, Japan-North Korea Relations.

INTRODUCTION

There are two predominant views in regard to Japan's foreign policy of North Korea. One such argument emphasizes Japan's dependence on the United States. There are many such arguments from both conservatives and liberals that assert that Japan is a dependent country. For example, former Ambassador Naoto Amaki argues in his recent book that Japan should move away from its status as a dependent state of the United States.1 Also, Gavan McCormack, a well known expert on Japan, defines the "client state" not as a colony or puppet, but as a state that prioritizes other countries' interests above its own interests although it superficially pretends to be an independent state. He argues that Japan is a client state of the United States.2 While some scholars and experts focus on the Japanese dependence on the U.S., it is not difficult to find some cases in which Japan does not necessarily cooperate with the U.S. when interests conflict.

On the other hand, others emphasize Japan's reactionary tendencies. One such extreme argument is that Japan will be forced to possess nuclear weapons. Former Undersecretary of State John Bolton in his February 13th, 2013 article argued the possibility for Japan (and South Korea) to develop nuclear weapons if China does not support the reunification of the Korean peninsula and continues to insist on maintaining North Korea as a buffer state3. Also, the possibility of a nuclear Japan has been discussed by prominent Japanese politicians.4 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, then Deputy Cabinet Secretary, mentioned in May 2002 at a closed seminar at Waseda University that there would be no problem possessing nuclear weapons if they are smaller nuclear weapons. Related to Abe's remark, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda also expressed his understanding that Japan would be able to possess nuclear weapons constitutionally. Although the possibility of Japanese nuclear development has occasionally been discussed, Japan itself has rejected the concept of a nuclear Japan, and it is unthinkable at least in the foreseeable future5.

These two seemingly opposing arguments are certainly reflected in the lack of Japan's presence in the international arena as well as the exaggerated media reports on Japanese conservative perspectives without any context. On one hand, Japan is a client state of the United States as Japan has prioritized some U.S. interests above its own national interests. On the other hand, the prospect of a nuclear Japan seems to show Japanese foreign policy in quite a different light. For a better understanding of the complex mixture of these two seemingly contradictory views that characterize Japan's policies toward North Korea, this paper employs the concept of responsive engagement in order to explain Japanese foreign policy toward North Korea since the Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to Pyongyang in September 2002. …

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