Kim Jong-un could not miss this opportunity. A few hours before the opening, this Thursday afternoon, of a major reconciliation summit between the Japanese and South Korean heads of state, who have been cold for years, the North Korean regime orchestrated , in the morning, yet another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was fired towards the ocean that separates the Korean peninsula from the Japanese archipelago.
Fired, at 7:10 a.m., on a very steep trajectory to quickly gain altitude, from Sunan, near Pyongyang, the craft fell 1,000 kilometers further, in the open Sea of Japan, in a trajectory quite similar to other ICBM firings carried out since the beginning of the year by the dictatorship. According to the first analyzes of the experts, the missile used could thus be a “Hwasong 17”, the most powerful device in the known arsenal of North Korea. It can theoretically be fitted with a nuclear warhead and flown to any site on US territory.
Strengthening of cooperation
If this launch follows six other launch operations since the beginning of 2023 and comes at a time when the United States and South Korea are organizing a major campaign of joint military exercises called “Freedom Shied”, it also allows, according to analysts, to stage Pyongyang’s annoyance at the resumption of cooperation between Tokyo and Seoul. The great allies of the United States in the region had not met in a formal summit in Japan since 2011.
For the Kim clan, in power in Pyongyang since the end of the Korean War, this warming of the relationship between the conservative governments of the two countries is bad news. It could lead, in the coming years, to better coordination of defense policies and strategies against Pyongyang. In the past, the two nations had distinct approaches to the North Korean issue, sometimes to the chagrin of the United States, which dreams of creating a united front in the area to face North Korea’s provocations but also the rise in power, often aggressively, of China.
These regional security issues will also be at the heart of discussions this Thursday, in Tokyo, between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. “Peace and stability in the region are important for the region, and we must further strengthen cooperation between allies and like-minded countries,” Fumio Kishida has already explained, just before his counterpart landed. “We cannot afford to waste time by neglecting the tense relations between Korea and Japan”, also warned Yoon Suk-yeol, recalling the two nations were facing “a polycrisis”.
Before organizing this reunion, the two nations negotiated in secret, for months, often in the presence of American diplomats, an agreement on some of the many historical differences that have divided them since the days of the colonial reign of Japan on the peninsula. (1910-1945) and irritated their respective public opinions.
Last week, South Korea announced that it was itself going to create and manage a local compensation fund for Korean victims of forced labor carried out during the war in Japanese companies. Tokyo, which believes it has already paid this historic debt, will not be forced to contribute to it.
Strengthen economic security
The two governments have not, for the moment, mentioned major concrete agreements for this relaunch of dialogue between their leaders. But they hinted that several plans for future cooperation could be discussed before Yoon Suk-yeol leaves on Friday afternoon. Several South Korean companies, represented in the presidential delegation, could in particular announce the creation, with their Japanese counterparts, of a private fund to encourage cooperation and the strengthening of economic security, at a time when global supply chains are disrupted by shortages or political conflicts.
Promising frank but cordial exchanges, the Japanese government has planned a dinner, this Thursday evening, in two parts. A formal moment for the whole delegation around a beef dish then a more “intimate” sequence between Fumio Kishida and Yoon Suk-yeol, accompanied by only a handful of advisers, in a small restaurant in the Ginza district, serving “omurice”, a fried rice topped with a runny omelet, which the South Korean president would be particularly fond of.