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Editorial: N. Korea missile tests underline renewed need for Japan-S. Korea cooperation

North Korea fired a flying object that appears to be a missile toward the Sea of Japan on Jan. 5. Although the object reportedly fell outside Japan's exclusive economic zone, this cannot be accepted.

    The launch is the first since an October 2021 test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The South Korean government believes the latest weapon was also a ballistic missile. If this is the case, it contravenes the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on North Korea.

    Development is going ahead on cruise missiles made to fire at long ranges, which are not subject to the terms of the resolutions. The threat to Japan is only getting more serious.

    At the plenary meeting of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party at the end of 2021, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looked back on the year, and emphasized that development of new weapons was proceeding well. It appeared that what he had in mind was the repeated firings of anomalous orbit and hypersonic missiles. Although Kim also referred to foreign policy, his remarks' content was not made public. It seems that for the time being, the country is putting a priority on strengthening its military ahead of foreign diplomacy.

    What is important in pushing North Korea to change course is the partnership of Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. But the current situation makes it hard to say this is working. The is because Japan and South Korea's relationship is deteriorating.

    In an appearance on a New Year's TV program, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that Japanese and South Korean relations are "important from a security perspective, too." The response to North Korea was surely frontmost in his mind.

    But Kishida has only spoken on the phone to South Korea's President Moon Jae-in for just a little over 30 minutes immediately after taking office. Talks between foreign ministers have not been held, and there also haven't been any phone calls between the countries' respective leaders or Cabinets on the projectile launches.

    Japan, the U.S. and South Korea need to show their firm partnership at the appropriate time. They cannot give North Korea a weakness to exploit.

    In response to the latest test firing, Japan's Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi has mentioned again the need for the country to have the ability to attack enemy bases, but isn't this a case of mistaken priorities? Without intelligence sharing with South Korea, the reality is that even understanding the situation in North Korea will be uncertain.

    The greatest hurdle is the issue of forced labor during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before the end of World War II. Although it is natural for Japan to seek a positive response from the Moon administration, it runs counter to national interests if discontent between the two countries has an ill effect on security agreements

    Prime Minister Kishida has maintained he will engage in "realistic foreign diplomacy for a new age." If that is to be the case, he must look directly at the reality of the issues facing a revival of cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea, and find a way to hold talks with South Korea.

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