Don’t let North Korea divide U.S. allies in Asia

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Just a few short days ago, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles, one landing in the Sea of Japan, in defiance of strict UN Security Council resolutions. The North Korean dictatorship appears determined to foster a sense of instability and “divide” U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator, personally “provided field guidance” for the missile launch.

Earlier this year, President Obama became the first incumbent U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, Japan that was struck by an atomic bomb during World War II. Many Republicans and Democrats were heartened by the fact that President Obama made clear that the United States is committed to reducing the spread of nuclear weapons. While some South Koreans staged a protest at Hiroshima, demanding an apology and reparations from President Obama, most people welcomed the historic visit. North Korea called the Hiroshima visit a “childish political calculation.”

{mosads}Just a few hundred miles away from Hiroshima, Kim Jong Un continues to sow the seeds of division and instability in the region. As we strive to advance U.S. national security interests in the Asia-Pacific region, it’s critically important that we continue to support strong American allies in Asia such as South Korea and Japan.

For many years, South Korea and Japan were involved in an ongoing conflict over the use of so-called “comfort women” by Japanese soldiers during World War II. The United States needs our closest allies in Asia working together. This wartime issue presented a significant challenge for U.S. geopolitical interests in the Asia-Pacific region. Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, stated publicly that “nationalist feelings can still be exploited, and it’s not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy. But such provocations produce paralysis, not progress.”

In late December 2015, the United States helped facilitate a historic comfort women agreement between South Korea and Japan. Under the terms of the agreement, Japan will pay $8.3 million into a fund to help the surviving victims and Prime Minister of Japan renewed an apology.

The governments of South Korea and Japan agreed that the agreement would be the final “irreversible” solution to a historical issue that had been a source of tension between our two most important strategic allies in Asia. President Obama praised the leaders of both countries for “having the courage and vision to forge a lasting settlement to this difficult issue.”

Almost immediately, North Korea condemned the deal between South Korea and Japan, calling it a “humiliating agreement” and vowed to oppose any reconciliation between the parties.  North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un, a man who the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights said should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity is opposed to the historic agreement.

Extreme groups in South Korea with links to the North, continue to rally nationalist sentiment against this historic agreement. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert did a very effective job in helping to make this agreement a reality, not to mention the fact that he was slashed in the face with a knife by an extreme Korean nationalist who had links to North Korea. The United States, South Korea, Japan and all Asian nations need to stand strong against a rogue tyrannical regime that only wants to “divide” our closest allies in Asia.

The resolution of the comfort women issue provides a template for resolving similar historical wartime issues that create lingering tensions between erstwhile allies. During the Vietnam war, many South Korean soldiers violently raped and sexually assaulted thousands of young Vietnamese women. Today, between 5,000 and 30,000 children of mixed Korean-Vietnamese ancestry, known as the “Lai Dai Han” live at the margins of Vietnamese society. The South Korean government has never issued an apology to the Vietnamese rape victims or acknowledged these crimes. Nevertheless, South Korea recently concluded a free trade agreement with Vietnam and U.S. – Vietnamese relations are at an all-time high. As we seek to build new strategic alliances in the region, we should not let historical wartime issues continue to cause tension and divide us. It’s imperative that we look at all of these issues in a “universal context.”

As North Korea continues to fire off ballistic missiles and build up its nuclear arsenal, the United States must continue to support South Korea, Japan and all our allies the region. We cannot allow North Korea to use the comfort women agreement or other wartime historical issues to “divide” our allies in Asia.

Republican Norm Coleman represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 2003-2009. During his six years in the Senate, he served on the Foreign Relations Committee as Chair of the Western Hemisphere and ranking member of the Near East subcommittees. Sen. Coleman currently serves on the Advisory Council for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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