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Editorial: Japan, US, S. Korea must not lower guard against N. Korea

Questions have begun to arise as to whether Japan, the United States and South Korea are still in step with one another in their policies toward North Korea.

Upon receiving an invitation to visit North Korea from the country's leader Kim Jong Un via his sister Kim Yo Jong, who visited South Korea at the start of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded keenly, saying that the Koreas should create an environment in which a summit could take place.

In talks with the North Korean envoy, Moon emphasized the importance of dialogue between North Korea and the U.S., but did not address the issue of the North's nuclear development program.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who went to the games' opening ceremony, was invited to a dinner reception but cancelled at the last minute. It was obvious Pence was trying to avoid coming into contact with North Korea's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong Nam, with whom he was scheduled to be seated at the same table.

On his way home from South Korea, however, Vice President Pence said in an interview with an American newspaper that the U.S. is open for talks with North Korea if the latter is willing.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also wavered wildly in his attitude toward possible talks with North Korea, sometimes saying he is open to it, and at other times saying he isn't. There's no denying that the U.S. has given off the impression that it lacks consistency in its stance toward North Korea.

The difference in opinion seen at the Japan-South Korea summit, held on the day of the Olympics' opening ceremony, is cause for concern as well. When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged that South Korea resume joint military drills with the U.S. soon after the Paralympics, Moon refused, saying it was a matter of sovereignty for South Korea.

South Korea is trying to serve as an intermediary for U.S.-North Korea dialogue by building a conciliatory relationship between the North and the South. Ultimately, such dialogue will be necessary to resolve the issue of North Korean nuclear development, because the use of military force against North Korea will cause massive casualties and damage in both Japan and South Korea -- and therefore is not a realistic option.

The goal of any dialogue, however, must be to end North Korea's nuclear program. There's a chance that North Korea will use a "freeze" on nuclear development as a bargaining chip. But such promises have been repeatedly broken by North Korea in the past.

Abe spoke with Trump on the phone on Feb. 14, and the two reaffirmed their policy of continuing to place pressure on the North Korean regime. Abe likely felt the necessity to confirm the true intentions of the U.S. government.

It is clear that North Korea is using "smile diplomacy" to drive a wedge between Japan, the U.S., and South Korea in an attempt to flip the state of affairs in their favor. This is likely because North Korea has begun to feel the effects of pressure and sanctions from the international community, including China. We must not relinquish this momentum.

Japan, the U.S. and South Korea must cooperate even more closely than before to confirm where we stand precisely because the situation surrounding North Korea has entered an important phase. The three countries must not let their guards down.

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