With the tension between Japan and South Korea, US President Trump sent National Security Advisor Bolton to visit Japan and South Korea this week to mediate the contradictions between the two countries. In addition, Bolton’s trip also shoulders other diplomatic tasks, including the next meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But can Bolton really achieve the desired effect? Or is he a qualified mediator between Japan and South Korea?
John Bolton visited South Korea from July 23rd to 24th. I visited Japan from July 21st to 22nd. According to the White House National Security Council, Bolton’s mission is to continue the dialogue with important allies and friends. According to the statement of US President Donald Trump on July 19, Bolton’s trip to Japan and South Korea to transfer diplomatic and trade disputes between the two countries at the request of the South Korean government, namely, labor issues and Japan’s strengthening Issues such as export control of semiconductor materials.
American mediation is difficult to solve
According to Trump, on June 30, Wen asked him to help mediate the dispute between South Korea and Japan. In view of the positive role of Wen in the peninsula, Trump had to give back to the person’s feelings or help.
In early July, Japan announced that it tightened its export control of raw materials for the three semiconductor industries, causing dissatisfaction in South Korea. Japan said that the reason for the adoption of the control measures is that South Korea has problems in export management, while South Korea accuses Japan of this move as an economic retaliation against the Japanese Supreme Court for awarding Japanese companies to compensate for forced labor cases. For the issue of labor claims, the two countries cannot find a solution in the short term. From October to November 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court twice sentenced Japanese companies to compensate for Korean labor forced during the colonization of the Korean peninsula, causing dissatisfaction with Japan.
Japan denied that the issue of labor compensation led Japan to strengthen its export control over South Korea, insisting that the South Korean people could no longer claim from the Japanese side based on the “Japan-South Korea Claims Agreement” signed by the two countries in 1965. However, South Korea does not recognize this statement from Japan.
It is not uncommon for the United States to mediate before the two major alliances of Japan and South Korea, but there are not many successful cases. At most, the contradictions between the two are temporarily suppressed, and the problems cannot be solved. During Barack Obama, the United States had adjusted tensions between Japan and South Korea due to issues such as comfort women and labor. Sometimes, this mediation even has some “resolving internal contradictions in the allies” and instead tries to pressure Beijing. The Democratic government has always advocated the integration of South Korea and Japan to curb the rise of China, and Trump seems to be more willing to adopt isolationism at the trade level.
In other words, the US mediation seems to have lost some of its past intentions against China.
However, the national security aides like Bolton are pushing the United States to get the participation and cooperation of the allies in regional security affairs. In addition to mediating the dispute between Japan and South Korea, Bolton’s trip to Northeast Asia is also intended to persuade Japan to support the US Maritime Security Initiative in the Middle East. The plan mainly refers to the United States to jointly conduct patrols in the waters of the Hormuz Strait and to strengthen the safety monitoring of relevant waters and navigation channels on the grounds of protecting the safety of civilian ships. The United States has invited many countries to participate in this, mainly including Japan and the United Kingdom.
There are many doubts in the UK about this plan. Because the British lessons on the Iraq war still have a clear memory, they are cautious about the security alliance promoted by Bolton. Britain, caught in the Brexit issue, is afraid to fall into the quagmire of the Middle East war again.
As an article in the British “Guardian” July 20th said, Bolton led the Trump administration to direct confrontation with Iran, and would not care about the interests of other allies. When he heard that the Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on the day of Independence Day, Bolton could not hide his excitement. Bolton has set a trap for the UK.
Unlike the UK, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not want to be blindly involved in the war in the Middle East. As for the US invitation to Japan to form a coalition patrol in the Hormuz Strait, Abe said on July 21 that Japan must first clear the idea of the United States and wait for the United States to provide more details and objectives.
In fact, this can be understood to some extent as a Japanese euphemism.
Moreover, this Middle East patrol plan in the United States requires manpower, material resources and financial resources. That is to say, it is hoped that an ally such as Japan will provide financial or human support for the US proposal. Due to the constitutional restrictions since World War II, Japan was unable to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces or aircraft to participate, and the rest only supported the support of the US position by providing financial support.
The United States has not yet issued such an invitation to South Korea. The United States invited Japan to participate because only Japan is the world’s fourth-largest oil purchaser, and 80% of its oil imports go through the Strait of Hormuz. In other words, the Trump administration wants Japan to pay. This is exactly the same as Trump’s request for Japan to increase defense spending. However, Japan is more inclined to maintain friendly relations with Iran and avoid affecting its oil imports due to US factors.
Bolton will not promote peninsula reconciliation
Bolton and South Korea do not discuss security issues in the Middle East, but on the peninsula, Bolton will inevitably say something. According to the White House National Security Council, Bolton will discuss with the South Korean National Security Advisor Zheng Yirong on July 24th the issue of the permanent peace mechanism on the peninsula and how to continue to strengthen the US-South Korea alliance. Just a week before Bolton’s visit to South Korea, North Korea warned that if the United States and South Korea held a new military exercise, it would not be conducive to the next meeting between the US and North Korean leaders.
Any political analyst familiar with the peninsula is well aware that Bolton, who has always advocated a tough policy toward the DPRK, is now able to connect with the permanent peace mechanism on the peninsula. If Trump really authorizes Bolton to pave the way through this fourth “Special Gold Club,” he may be disappointed.
On the one hand, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is temporarily responsible for the peninsula, and hawkish Bolton is unlikely to find common ground with the South Korean government. Moreover, since the time of George W. Bush, Bolton has been supporting the solution of the DPRK nuclear issue through military means, and opposed the use of dialogue to ease tensions between the North and the South. On the other hand, the North Korean government does not like Pompeo, but it also hates Bolton. If Bolton wants to promote the fourth special gold meeting, unless he changes his course, he will give up his existing hawkish militant stance. If that’s the case, Bolton’s time in the White House is not much.
Therefore, whether it is mediating Japan-South Korea labor and trade disputes, persuading Japan to participate in US security patrols in the Middle East, or discussing peace mechanisms on the peninsula, Bolton will not have much success or breakthrough in this trip.