A respected Japanese expert on Korean affairs on Wednesday said that China may support the South Korea-led unification of the Korean Peninsula because China no longer needs North Korea as a buffer zone vis-à-vis the U.S.
Hajime Izumi, a professor of international relations at the University of Shizuoka, said China and South Korea have been becoming increasingly close since last year. He said that this has put huge pressure on North Korea and driven Pyongyang to re-enter official talks with Japan.
Izumi said South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s approach to China was quite predictable, but that China’s aggressive engagement of South Korea had been greater than expected.
“I don’t think North Korea had assumed China would go that far, and this change in Chinese attitude is making North Korea very anxious now,” he said.
Izumi was speaking to dozens of overseas journalists at the Foreign Press Center in Tokyo on Wednesday in a speech entitled, “The Outlook for Japan-North Korea Relations.”
“As a countermeasure against closer China-South Korea ties, North Korea is trying to improve its relationship with Japan,” Izumi said of Pyongyang’s recent proactive dialogue toward Tokyo.
Japan and North Korea plan to resume their intergovernmental talks at the director-general level on March 30-31 — the two nations’ first high-level official talks since November 2012. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Park met in The Hague, the Netherlands, on Sunday on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. Xi called on South Korea to strengthen bilateral communication and coordination to safeguard their common interests, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
SOUTH KOREA-LED UNIFICATION
Izumi said China’s engagement of South Korea will likely continue for some time and that China might eventually accept South Korea-led reunification of the Korean Peninsula – in other words, the South’s absorption of the North – in the future.
“North Korea would become worried that both China and South Korea are trying to collapse it, and there is a possibility such concern will arise in Pyongyang,” Izumi said. “This will cause North Korea to willingly accept significant concessions with Japan to make relations with Tokyo much closer. This would be necessary for North Korea to survive.”
Behind a shift in China’s attitude toward South Korea is its increasing confidence that a unified Korean Peninsula led by South Korea would not be anti-China, especially considering the two nations’ deepening economic interdependence, Izumi said.
“Previously China had been negative about South Korea-led reunification of the Korean Peninsula, or the South’s absorption of the North, but now this is gradually changing mainly due to China’s stronger confidence,” Izumi said.
Furthermore, Izumi said China also will likely become more confident about the so-called “New Type of Major Power Relationship” with the U.S., without worrying about losing North Korea as its defense and strategic buffer zone vis-à-vis the U.S.
“Under this new type of major power relationship, it’s necessary to have some sort of demarcation and mutual trust between China and the U.S. for them to partner with each other,” Izumi said.
“With China becoming confident about this, there is a possibility China will support South Korea-led unification in the future,” Izumi said.
Asked about North Korea’s firing of two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Wednesday, Izumi denied widespread views that the launches were a demonstration of defiance in reaction to a summit meeting among the leaders of Japan, the U.S. and South Korea that took place around the same time in the Netherlands.
“North Korea is not such a good guy to send a special gift to us,” Izumi said. “If North Korea launched those missiles consciously thinking about the trilateral summit, they are really a very good guy because the threat of the North is most needed for the three nations to smoothly coordinate trilateral policies.”
Instead, the missile-firing, the latest in a series of test launches in recent months, should be regarded as a continuing warning or wake-up call, mainly for South Korea, which tends to take North Korea’s nuclear program less seriously.
Picture: Kosuke Takahashi
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