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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #385: March 8, 2007

North Korea and Japan Salvage Talks for Another Day [update]

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

North Korea and Japan Salvage Talks for Another Day

Comments: (updated by the reviewer on 3/9)

As expected, North Korea is playing the old game again. And they may be winning, against Japan, and even more so against the U.S.

After the initial meeting on Wednesday morning, they boycotted the afternoon session. They came to the table on Thursday morning but refused further discussion, and left, accusing Japan for destroying the meeting by keep bringing up the "unproductive" subject of the abduction.. There are no plans to meet again.

The tactic is so old and worn out. They first hint the possibility of coming to the gathering by saying that they hope the occasion would be productive. They do come and stay for a little while only to leave as soon as the program starts, or go home during the intermission boycotting the rest of the schedule, accusing the counterpart for making the occasion unproductive and leading it to a failure.

But in the labyrinth of international politics - sometimes referred to as diplomacy in more ore less a cynical tone the same lines can have different effects. A U.S. senior official, commenting on the Japan-North Korea talks, sympathized with Japan's position on the abduction issue, but did not refer to the boycott by North Korea in any negative tone, seemingly implying that the U.S. does not consider North Korea's behavior to be unfriendly.

There have been concerns expressed in Japan with regard to the recent change of attitude by the U.S. And the concerns expressed are not only by those purporting for strong Japan-U.S. ties but also by those who used to aspire for breaking away from the yoke of the U.S. - as they tend to overlap with those against reinforcing Japan's defense capabilities.

The reason for the change in the U.S. international political stance - if it really has - is easy to point out. It was the devastating defeat in the November election last year, and the major cause that lead to the defeat, i.e. the Iraqi incident.

Wild suspicions have been rumored for the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill such as that he is seeking for a senior position in the new government to be formed under a democratic president in 2009 by distancing himself from the current administration. Or that he was dazzled by the cold winter air in Berlin where the specters of successions of tactful diplomacy still loom when he discussed the issue "amicably" with his North Korean counterpart in January.

But, of course, foreign policies of a respectable government based on democracy are not deflected so easily and drastically by ambitions of a single officer. Accordingly, the most rational speculation at this point states that the U.S. - more precisely the Bush administration - has adopted a two-front strategy whereby maintaining the traditional stance on affairs in the Middle East including Iraq and Iran, while retreating from Asian affairs. If this were true, there is a simple expression to describe it, i.e. a "double standard. Some others hinted a revival of the Monroe Doctrine implemented in the early 19th century, as the similar mentality of which the U.S. tended to fall into a number of times ever since.

It is also interesting to contemplate on why President Bush made a phone call to Prime Minister Abe to explain the U.S. stance after the six-party agreement was concluded - and that a couple of days after the agreement - a very delicate timing for a lot of speculation to find room in. And then successive visits to Japan by Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser J.D. Crouch, and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, all apparently to coax, if not to cite excuses, on the change of the U.S. stance on this issue.

The reports say that the talks between the U.S. and North Korea conducted in New York have been commented as "productive" by the negotiators. But is should not be forgotten that even if - and it's a very big if - North Korea adheres to the agreement last month and do everything it said it would, the world will not be back to the situation with regard to security before the last - and failed - negotiation of November 2005.

And what will North Korea gain if the current talks "go well"? First, North Korea acquires a seat in the very prestigious club of those owning nuclear arms, a place so dearly sought by other countries - and, of course, so comfortably enjoyed by those who already are members - so as not to be ignored and to have their desires and demands heard across the world. North Korea also will be relieved of the heavy burden to further develop nuclear development temporarily so as to be able to use the huge share out of meager resources for other purposes - such as reinforcing its military powers in a more practically way by modernizing their non-nuclear weapons.

But perhaps the most valuable product North Korea is going to obtain out of this sequence of talks this time is to finally succeed in driving a wedge between Japan and the U.S. If this is accomplished - and it really might from how the things are developing, North Korea will win a truly respectable position among those who are not very pleased with the existing close ties between Japan and the U.S.

Perhaps Japan should prepare for the day it must stand on its own. In fact, there have been many, though remained as minor, voices that Japan should not be sticking around with the U.S., as it would only provide trouble. And once the U.S., a friend with real tangible power, stops watching over the security issue, the first thing Japan is forced to do is to enhance its military capabilities to protect its peace-loving citizens from a neighbor with missiles though even a fishing boat would do for that matter - equipped with nuclear bombs prepared to be delivered and detonated in just about any part of the land.

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