RIETI Policy Symposium

Asian Security Environment after the 9.11 Terrorism


Discussion Points of Current Security Environment in the Asian-Pacific Region

SOEYA Yoshihide Faculty Fellow, RIETI

RIETI is hosting the policy symposium on "Asian Security Environment after the 9.11 Terrorism." Taking this occasion, RIETI interviewed faculty fellow, SOEYA Yoshihide on the current security situation in Asia.

The prime focus of RIETI's research activities has been on economic issues. What is the significance for RIETI to take up security issues?

Soeya: The fact that economy is coming under greater influence of security issue can be cited as a major reason. A particularly important factor is that the United States is putting the top priority on security policies. The global security environment including that of the Asia-Pacific region has changed drastically after the terror attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. The upcoming symposium will bring together five security specialists, each from Northeast Asia, Central Asia, South Pacific, South Asia and Southeast Asia, to present views and discuss on security issues based on their respective regional perspectives.
Terror attacks themselves can be deemed as an antithesis against the liberalism, an idea centered on the West. A large-scale terrorism has potential to melt down the liberal economic system. In fact, the Sept. 11 incident has destabilized stock and financial markets. U. S. President George W. Bush has expressed determination to squarely confront terrorists. How such U.S. policies are viewed in each Asian region and what changes the security environment in the Asian region has undergone after the Sept. 11 incident will be important themes in the symposium. The symposium will offer lots of subjects that would provide hints in thinking the future of Asia.

In the security map of Asia, North Korea is being closed up. Could you explain the background?

Soeya: At the root underlies a mechanism led by the U.S. The Bush administration, in particular, has been holding to a hard-line stance in its policy toward North Korea and Pyongyang seems to be scared of the U.S. North Korea is unable to any chance of getting compromise from the U.S. and this is the very reason why North Korea took a compromising attitude in its negotiations with Japan. The U.S. absolutely rebuffs the idea of nuclear development by North Korea. But this does not mean that the U.S. intends to immediately crush down the current North Korean regime. For the past several years, North Korea has been trying to deploy positive diplomacy, restoring diplomatic relations wherever possible. With its talks with North Korea covering a whole range of issues including the nuclear problem, Japan is in the vanguard of a series of developments that would determine the future of security environment in Northeast Asia. A major focus is how Japan can use the U.S. as a negotiation card.

There has been intensive media coverage on the abduction issue in Japan.

Soeya: The abduction problem is a grave issue that concerns Japan's national sovereignty. At the same time, this is a universal, human rights issue. Had the same thing happened to U.S. citizens, Washington must have taken much firmer measures against Pyongyang. North Korea made an unprecedented move when it admitted and apologized for the kidnapping of Japanese nationals after all those years of denial of the very existence of this problem. This shows just how desperately Pyongyang needs to remedy its relation with Japan, finding no room to push in its negotiations with the U.S. Pyongyang had long tried to maintain its regime by developing nuclear. But now, they have realized such a scheme would not help them survive. They continue to seek the survival of the regime. But they have recognized the need to change ways to attain that goal and thus admitted to Japan of the fact of kidnapping. Japan is at the advantageous position and asserting its basic stance is a rightful thing to do.
At the same time, however, Japan must be aware that the course of its negotiations with North Korea will have a grave impact on the order of Asia. The two issues - the issue of abduction and the issue of regional order - must be considered in a coherent manner. Should North Korea try to put pressure on Japan by saying that it would negotiate with the U.S. first if Japan insists too much on the abduction issue, Pyongyang would have no option but negotiate with Japan in reality.
To date, Japan's diplomacy has managed to come along without strategy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is being criticized for having made light of abductees. But it is true that the ministry is in a dilemma, struggling on the both fronts of exploring diplomatic strategy and solving the abduction problem. In addition, the problematic ways of media coverage on diplomatic issues are making the steering of Japan's diplomacy even more difficult.
In such a difficult situation, politicians should be playing a leading role in breaking impasse but the ongoing political situation in Japan would not allow this. With the collapse of the "1955 system" under which the Liberal Democratic Party dominated as a sole ruling party, the LDP is no longer able to hold its reign on its own. The Socialist Party of Japan, which used to serve as a major opposition party, has broken up with its mainstream diminished into a minor opposition party. Meanwhile, the LDP's major coalition partner would not dare to use its influence over the LDP despite its having a critical card of leaving the coalition. Opposition parties are completely defunct and unable to present any alternatives in diplomacy toward North Korea. Following the end of the 1955 system, a healthy pluralism has failed to take root in Japan. Politics should present varying options to the general public and serve its intrinsic role under democracy on diplomatic fronts.

(Interview and report by KUMAGAI Akiko)