Most people are quite aware that North Korea presents a serious problem with its nuclear weapons and missiles programs. But not many understand why it is so difficult to deal with the dictatorial regime.
The difficulties with the North have their roots in history – and recent events exacerbate long-standing enmities. The countries trying to deal with North Korea are China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. These five have divergent national interests and have experienced hostilities with others. They tend to see history through different lenses.
To gain a better grasp of current events in Northeast Asia, I invite you to read an article of mine that was published online by Global Asia, the journal of the East Asia Foundation, on 25 March 2015 at http://www.globalasia.org/article/in-northeast-asia-history-matters/ though you may be asked to “register” to get to it.
The article titled “In Northeast Asia, History Matters” lists the problems – past and present – that prevent the five countries from working as closely together against North Korea as needed to accomplish anything of lasting value. Briefly stated:
- China remembers the atrocities committed by Japan during World War II. China and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) have had differences – and some small-scale hostilities – over the years. China supported North Korea during the Korean War. China resents the United States trying to restrict its actions in the Western Pacific Ocean. China wants North Korea to stay as a buffer between China and the other four.
- Japan and Russia have warred in the past, and Russia still has possession of the islands at the southern end of the Kurile Islands claimed by Japan. Japan wants to be free of its pacifist constitution, which scares many other Asia nations. Japan feels that South Korea is holding a grudge and should let bygones be bygones. Japan is upset at North Korea for having abducted several of its citizens some years ago.
- South Korea sees China as not doing enough to rein in North Korea. South Korea feels that Japan is not facing its brutal occupation of the Korean Peninsula in a forthright manner. South Korea sees Russia as a potential seller of much needed energy, but does recall that the Soviet Union was a major patron of the North in years past.
- The United States does not want China exercising its power in the Western Pacific Ocean. In view of its exploits in Eastern Europe, the US has little reason to trust Russia. The US wants Japan and Korea to forget their past differences so that the three can form a closer alliance against North Korea – and China as necessary.
As you can see from even this overly simplistic narrative, there is little basis for trust and cooperation among the five countries to work against North Korea. As long is this continues to be the case, nothing changes – and North Korea goes on building nuclear weapons and developing ICBMs.