President Obama will be become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, the site of the U.S. atomic bomb attack, when he visits Japan for the G7 summit later this month. During the visit, President Obama is expected to speak about American efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, a message that will likely resonate with nations close to North Korea.
Just a few hundred miles away, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un recently announced that North Korean scientists have developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles. Over the last few months, the North has stepped up its belligerent rhetoric in response to the United Nations imposing some of its toughest sanctions.
In January 2016, Pyongyang stated publicly that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb that could "wipe out the whole of the U.S. territory." Not long ago, the "Dear Leader" displayed a chart reporting to show the flight path that a North Korean ICBM would take to strike America's west coast. These actions underscore the precarious state of affairs in Northeast Asia which poses a serious threat to U.S. national security interests.
In recent weeks, North Korea fired two mid-range Musudan missiles, but both attempts failed. The U.N. Security Council discussed the latest North Korean launches behind closed doors, but the message is clear, North Korea is determined to do everything within its power to create instability in the Asia-Pacific region.
In addition to the North Korean threat, the United States and its regional allies are also dealing with territorial disputes and challenges to regional stability in the South China Sea. China's island building in the South China Sea, poses a threat to U.S. national security interests in the region. At a time of escalating tensions, when the United States looks to its regional allies for support, many of these same allies are still involved in disputes with each other over historical issues that are more than 70 years old. The United States depends on South Korea and Japan to help promote American values in East Asia. Until recently, both countries were involved in an ongoing conflict over the use of South Korean "comfort women" by Japanese soldiers during World War II. This historical issue presented a challenge to U.S. foreign policy, as we need our allies working together.
In late 2015, the United States helped broker a bilateral agreement between Japan and South Korea to ultimately resolve the "comfort women" issue. The agreement facilitated a final apology and the Japanese government agreed to put $8.3 million into a fund to help the surviving women. President Obama praised the leaders of Japan and South Korea for "having the courage and vision to forge a lasting settlement to this difficult issue."
Regrettably, North Korea appears determined to exacerbate tensions and increase mistrust between two of America's most important allies in Asia. The North Korean dictatorship described the historic deal as a "humiliating agreement" and indicated its vehement opposition to any form of détente between South Korea and Japan.
Chong Dae Hyup, an extreme nationalist group with alleged ties to North Korea, has exploited this agreement by rallying nationalist furor in South Korea against Japan. One Korean-American group articulated a similar message and called on President Obama to fire Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a Change.Org petition, for negotiating this historic agreement. Deputy Secretary of State Blinken has called on all Korean-American groups to support the agreement and many groups have agreed to do so.
The United States must not allow North Korea to exacerbate tensions between our key strategic allies in Asia. As the leader of the free world, the United States needs to support our regional allies who are standing up to a Stalinist regime that is intent on developing nuclear weapons. At a time of escalating tensions, we need our critical allies, South Korea and Japan working together to help safeguard American interests in Asia.
In May 2016, North Korea sentenced a Korean-American businessman to 10 years of hard labor. This came a few weeks after Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate was sentenced to 15 years hard labor on charges of stealing a poster from his hotel. The recent detention of American citizens in North Korea, is another clear sign that the United States needs to take a strong line against North Korea and support our key allies in East Asia.
My message is simple, Japan and South Korea have shown great courage by turning the page on a passionate historical argument. The United States should not allow a belligerent North Korea to drive a wedge between our key strategic allies in Asia.