Japan and South Korea are pressing the United States to step up the diplomatic effort to prevent war with North Korea.
South Korea’s ambassador-at-large for international security affairs, Chung-in Moon, has said that President Trump should send an envoy such as the former national security advisor Steve Hadley to try to dissuade the North from further missile launches and nuclear tests.
Professor Moon was speaking after North Korea launched another long-range rocket over Japan.
Following the launch, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in parliament: “In order to press North Korea into changing its policies, we shall take a resolute attitude in our diplomacy,” but he also said “dialogue for the sake of dialogue is meaningless.”
A former Japanese ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Ichiro Fujisaki, has warned that the Americans have become “very serious” over the North Korean issue because they recognise its missiles may soon be able to reach the US mainland.
Mr Fujisaki told the BBC: “Mr Trump has been very clear he will try to defend Japan, so we are putting some confidence on this US position. The US is very serious this time on nuclear deterrents and this was not the case about 40 years ago, if I may say.”
This week, tens of thousands of South Korean and American personnel have been involved in joint military exercises. They included simulated air strikes on ground targets. The North has called it “an all out provocation.”
Ambassador Moon said that the South Korean president Moon Jae-in is “desperate to avoid war” but if there was a conflict, any decision on military action must be taken jointly between South Korea and the US.
“If America fights, America wants to win but in order to win, they will need to commit ground forces. Those ground forces would be drawn from the South Korean army,” he warned.
In an on-the-record discussion at Chatham House, Professor Moon proposed that London could host a new round of negotiations involving six parties: South Korea, North Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
Professor Moon said the latest missile launch could well have been deliberately designed to escalate matters. “It’s not irrational – it’s very rational from their point of view,” he said.
North Korean propaganda claims its weapons programme is needed to protect the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, to protect the state’s institutions and to protect its people. Professor Moon said that these motives combine with a quest for domestic political legitimacy and a desire for international recognition.
Professor Moon said that further sanctions which could lead to the complete isolation of North Korea would be counter-productive.
He claimed that President Putin of Russia has said that the North would continue with its weapons programme “even if the people have to eat grass.”
Professor Moon said: “If we close all ties with the North, there is no way we can influence it other than creating a humanitarian disaster.” He also cautioned against shutting down all channels of communication with potential opponents of Kim Jong-Un.