As the 2018 Winter Olympics began this month in Pyeongchang, Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were in the reviewing stands on the tail end of Pence’s aggressive propaganda tour in Japan and South Korea designed to counter North Korea’s unprecedented diplomatic presence at the Games.
It was a jarring sight, in part because the Olympics are taking place only a few miles from the border that has divided the two Koreas since the United States and the Soviet Union accepted Japan’s surrender as Korea’s brutal colonial overlord in 1945. That history became a controversial topic when NBC had to fire one of its commentators after he outraged Koreans by speaking glowingly of Japan’s contributions to Korea during that era.
But as Pence and Abe were trying to contain North Korea’s so-called “charm offensive” to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Yukio Hatoyama, one of Japan’s few progressive leaders of the past 70 years, was in Washington to call for reducing US military forces in Okinawa and a more conciliatory approach to the regional tensions brought to a boil by Kim Jong-un’s nuclear and missile program.
“Japan’s role should be to create the conditions for North Korea to come to the negotiating table” and not to increase the pressure, the former prime minister told The Nation in an exclusive interview. He also criticized Abe for supporting a three-way military alliance with South Korea and the United States, saying that most Koreans naturally oppose it because they “feel they were attacked by us in the past.”
In Hatoyama’s view, Japan instead should work with South Korea and China to convince the United States and North Korea to begin talks toward a peace treaty. That could be done, he said, through a proposal endorsed by China under which the North would halt its nuclear-weapons development in return for a postponement of the massive US-South Korean military exercises now scheduled for late March.
“Once a peace treaty is signed, there’s no need to use nuclear weapons because there’s no threat,” he said. “I think the freeze would be enough for North Korea to start negotiating.” His perspective is in stark contrast to Abe, who, while Pence was in Tokyo, avidly endorsed Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of heavy sanctions backed by threats of US military strikes.
But Hatoyama’s views are closely aligned with President Moon, whose insistence on diplomacy and engagement with the North paid off big-time when Kim dispatched his sister Kim Yo-jong, along with his grandfather’s foreign minister and the current ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, to South Korea as the Olympics opened.