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ANALYSIS - Japan gets passing grade on N.Korea diplomacy at UN

July 17, 2006

ANALYSIS - Japan gets passing grade on N.Korea diplomacy at UN

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - A newly assertive Japan may have won the best U.N. resolution on North Korea's missile tests it could have hoped for, but experts said Tokyo's leaders often looked like diplomatic amateurs in their drive for sanctions. 

Hawkish Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, point man on North Korea, could get a boost in his bid to become Japan's next prime minister from the high-profile diplomatic campaign by Tokyo -- usually content to follow America's lead on the global stage. 

But analysts said Japan's failure to secure binding U.N. sanctions has also left Abe and his rival, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, vulnerable to charges of ineptitude. 

"Diplomatically, this is a better outcome for long-term peace and security of the region than what Japan had said it wanted," said Andrew Horvat, a professor at Tokyo Keizai University. 

"What you want is North Korea to get the message that there are five countries, including nominal friends and potential foes, that all disapprove," Horvat said, referring to the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, who are parties to stalled talks on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes. 

"In that sense, it's been a success." 

After 15 days of wrangling, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday for a resolution requiring nations to prevent North Korea from getting dangerous weapons and demanding Pyongyang halt its ballistic missile programme. 

The Security Council was sharply divided over whether to refer to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows for military force if another specific resolution is adopted. 

China threatened to veto the measure if Chapter 7 was mentioned. That meant Japan, the United States, Britain and France were forced to drop the phrase, although they said they still considered the resolution to be both tough and binding. 

Some analysts said Japan was putting the best face on what actually amounts to a diplomatic failure. 

"The resolution didn't go the way Japan wanted, so now they are saying that it was fine because it was unanimous," said Masao Okonogi, a Korea expert at Keio University in Tokyo. 

"If they say it was all tactics, that's not true. They actually thought they could get Chapter 7, but China was opposed and the United States wouldn't support them," Okonogi said. 

Japan has recently stepped up its campaign to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and some media said the outcome of the resolution battle showed the limits of its U.N. diplomacy, since in the end it had to follow the U.S. lead and compromise 

STANDING FIRM, GIVING GROUND 

Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at People's University of China in Beijing, noted both sides gave ground. 

"China made concessions to achieve agreement, but the Western powers also made significant concessions, especially removing the language about Chapter 7 mandatory sanctions," Shi said. 

The missile crisis coincides with jostling to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down in September. 

The timing has inclined frontrunner Abe and his dark horse rival, Aso -- both known for talking tough on China and North Korea -- to take a harsh line on the missile tests. 

Abe, who regularly leads in surveys of voters preference for the next prime minister, became a household name when he took a stern stance four years ago towards North Korea on the emotive issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang decades ago. 

This time he was also out in front, insisting on Japan's commitment to binding sanctions and even, some said, threatening privately to force a veto from China to demonstrate its isolation. 

Some analysts said Abe would win domestic kudos, others that he had survived the test, but with less than top grades. 

"What's more interesting is the lack of sophistication on the part of Japanese leadership," said Gerald Curtis, a Japan expert at New York's Columbia University. "You don't stake out a position as a bottom line that you aren't confident will be a success, because that is setting yourself up for defeat." 

Some diplomatic experts also faulted Abe for reviving a debate over whether Japan should develop the capability to strike overseas enemy bases in the event of an imminent attack, just as delicate negotiations on the U.N. resolution were underway. 

The comments sparked outrage in Seoul and Beijing, where bitter memories of Japan's past militarism run deep. 

"Japanese politicians ... still think they can speak out of both sides of their mouths and that what they say to a domestic audience can be kept from an international audience," said Robyn Lim, a security expert at Japan's Nanzan University. 

"It was a really inept performance." 

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing) 

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