North Korea Expected To Dominate Shangri-La Dialogue
By Wendell Minnick
SINGAPORE - North Korea's saber rattling - not maritime security and piracy, as planned - will likely dominate debate at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue scheduled from May 29-31 in Singapore.
Pyongyang's second nuclear test and missile launches have earned it pariah state status at this year's edition of the annual meeting. Hosted by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the meeting has become the premier defense and security summit of Asia.
The 2008 summit focused on Myanmar's failure to respond to international offers to victims of the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis that reportedly killed more than 80,000 people. But North Korea has bumped Myanmar off the top of the list of regional troublemakers.
The question many are asking is: What will Japan do in the face of growing North Korean belligerence?
U.K.-based Christopher Hughes, a specialist on Japanese military affairs, said North Korean efforts to disrupt regional security would continue to drive Tokyo's remilitarization.
Hughes said it was unlikely that North Korea's nuclear ambitions would set off a nuclear arms race in Japan and South Korea. The U.S. would do everything it can to stop this from happening, Hughes said while launching his new book, "Japan's Remilitarisation," on May 28 at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Instead, Japan is likely to seek more security cooperation with the U.S., ballistic missile defenses, and options for striking North Korean facilities that threaten the island nation.
Hughes said Japan would launch a serious attempt to build a capability to deter North Korea, possibly buying Tomahawks or other cruise missiles.
Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of the Okazaki Institute in Tokyo, said the world must "not accept North Korea's nuclear weapons as a fait accompli and to establish effective countermeasures to abandon it."
There is also increasing pressure on China to rein in North Korea, historically an ally, but there are suggestions Beijing may not be able to control Pyongyang.
"I don't think China can control North Korea," said Zhuang Jianzhong, vice director, Center for National Strategy Studies, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
China has failed to stop two nuclear tests and now North Korea "is aiming to be a strong power with nuclear weapons and to establish diplomatic relations with the U.S."
He said China does not "hold the key to controlling North Korea." The best approach is to continue the six-party talks with Pyongyang in the hopes of reaching some sort of agreement. The U.S. might have to accept North Korea as a member of the nuclear club. "North Korea will return to the table with a new position as a de facto nuclear power."
At this year's Shangri-La, the five-person Chinese delegation again will be headed by Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the People's Liberation Army's General Staff.
Kawamura said he still believes the U.S. is the key to denuclearizing North Korea.
"As we have learned in history, as a general rule, bilateral meetings are more suitable for resolving issues than multilateral talks," he said. "Thus, the U.S. should not hesitate to begin bilateral talks with North Korea" in complete consultation with Six Party members.
Japan's delegation to the Shangri-La will be led by Yasukazu Hamada, Minister of Defense, along with Mitsuaki Iwase, director-general, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Department, Security Bureau, National Police Agency, and Hideshi Mitani, director, Cabinet Intelligence, Cabinet Intelligence & Research Office, Cabinet Secretariat.