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North Korea: The Japanese card

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Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
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From where I sit, it is difficult not to feel that the North Korean saga is approaching some kind of end-game. That is not rational to contemplate for Seoul or Beijing. We get the feeling that Pyongyang, which is concerned above all with regime preservation rather than with reform, has a leadership that is running in smaller and smaller mental circuits. Maybe sooner than later, that has to mean some rash action against external "enemies", or an internal coup, or both. The US take on this North Korean malady tends to fixate the media. We have seen all too clearly that the current administration in Washington has a visceral contempt for diplomacy over their version of realpolitik. However, even Washington feels constrained on the North Korean issue because of the problems preemptive action would create with China, Russia and South Korea. North Korea's stupid missile threats, especially talk of intercontinental ballistic missiles reaching the west coast of the United States, could swing US politics to some kind of military action on Korea. The big sleeper, though, is realpolitik as seen from Japan.

The Japanese public feels directly threatened by North Korean missiles. When that is added to a nuclear threat, the imperatives for any Japanese government become overwhelming. The moral dimension in Japanese-Korean relationships (North or South) is potent on both sides, and can be rapidly swung behind support for violent action. There are strong historical reasons for this moral passion, but the pragmatic importance is that it exists as a political tool. The ordinary Japanese public is outraged by what it sees as the betrayal of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's groundbreaking visit to North Korea last year, and the perfidious treatment of Japanese abductees (regardless that Japan did its best to extinguish Korea as a nation and a culture from 1910-45). Internally, Japan is in a state of economic paralysis and self-recrimination after the heady days of the 1980s. The more nationalistic wing of the Japanese polity feels castrated by the US security umbrella.

=> atimes.com
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