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Sequel to Far Eastern Nuclear Crisis

This is to elaborate and update you on the situation touched off by the modest nuclear test conducted by North Korea on October 9 and my way of viewing it.

As had been written in the scenario since Pyongyang's last walkout on the six-party framework last November, a China-brokered agreement was reached in Beijing on October 31 between North Korean negotiator Kim Gye Gwan and his U.S. counterpart Christopher Hill to resume talks by the end of this year.

The initial reaction by the Tokyo government was quite interesting and suggestive. Hours after the news broke out, Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters in an ad-hoc meeting to the effect that Japan didn't want to see the representatives of a nuclear power sitting across the table. But overnight, the government subtly changed its stance just because George W. Bush welcomed the resumption and thanked China for its tenacious effort to make this happen.

The next morning The Daily Yomiuri pretended as if Aso hadn't made the offhand remark and instead quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki as saying: "The six-party talks are the most appropriate framework to resolve the nuclear issue, and we welcome the agreement on their resumption."

The Foreign Minister, a self-proclaimed hawk, has long been prone to gaffes just because his tongue is supposed to slip every time he has a casual talk with reporters while his denigrating remarks are always miles apart from what he can actually do, or even say in an official setting, especially in the presence of his foreign counterparts. As an old saying goes, every dog is a lion at home. But to the media, Aso's inherent inconsistency is more or less permissible as long as he can demonstrate his unparalleled skills at glossing over Japan's serious dilemma he personifies himself.

Actually the Japanese are facing a real predicament. On one hand they dare not face up to the new reality because they are at a loss over how to deal with it, with or without the resumed talks. So all they can do is to play down its significance and make believe the threat is not real. On the other hand, they have started getting an inkling that the threat being posed by the nuclear test is genuine. Last week on a TV Asahi's talk show, Shigeharu Aoyama, President of Japan's Independent Institute, was giving a plausible scenario.

Aoyama said it's fairly likely that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ultimately uses its nuke and missile ammunition against Japan. I think I share the same perspective with him, but in fact, the Japanese still remain enthusiastic about selling time to the fledgling nuclear power as if they look forward to seeing it quickly grow into fullfledged one. The JII President thought the Taepodong-2 long-range missile "failed" when the DPRK testfired it in July simply because they didn't fill it up on purpose, and that actually the whole testing was focused primarily on the Rodong mid-range missiles which are believed to reach most of the Japanese Archipelago.

They have tested the mid-range missiles in July and the nuke in October, both presumably with success. What's next? "The answer is clear," said the president of the think tank. So except for the Taepodong-2, they weren't yet another fireworks.

Then came the news about Iran's Revolutionary Guards test-firing as many as 19 missiles including the Shahab-3 long-range missiles which are believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads as far as to Israel. Now it seems the two countries are seeking the same end, Iran targeting Israel and the DPRK getting ready to take care of Japan. The only difference between them lies with the preparedness on the part of their respective enemies. Unlike Israel, Japan is still acting like a sitting duck despite occasional hawkish slips by the likes of Aso.

The Japanese government now seems poised to let the nuclear standoff drag on and on. However, it assumes that Kim Jong Il will eventually listen to reason. In the worst case scenario, the Americans will come to our rescue at any cost. So, in the meantime, why don't we just stick to the 39-year-old anti-nuke mantra advocated by Eisaku Sato, granduncle of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe? These are their take on the current situation.

On November 4, the Korean Central News Agency reported that a spokesman for the DPRK's Foreign Ministry had said: "It would be much better for Japan to refrain from participating in the six-party talks. Less attendants would not be bad for making the talks fruitful." According to the KCNA, the spokesman added that it would be "enough for Tokyo just to be informed of the results of the talks by Washington." As the reason, he reportedly cited the fact that "it's only Japan that expressed its wicked intention, letting loose a spate of balderdashes." It seems to me North Korea is listening to reason much more than Japan is.

Although the spokesman didn't mention it, there's another reason Pyongyang doesn't want Tokyo to attend the talks: the fact that Japan is stepping up its campaign against the abduction of Japanese citizens since Abe took office. On November 2 the Tokyo government submitted, jointly with the U.S. and some E.U. countries, a draft resolution to a U.N. General Assembly panel that "denounces North Korea's abduction of foreign nationals as violations of the human rights of the nationals of the other sovereign countries." (The Daily Yomiuri, Nov. 4).

But to me bringing up an irrelevant allegation, amid the nuclear crisis, about the crime which was committed more than a quarter century ago is something like a dealer who has sold time "forward" now failing to deliver it. Kim Jong Il could buy time at a bargain price because Abe's predecessor was dying for the possible normalization of diplomatic ties between the two countries which would have brought him a sizable cut in an estimated US$ 10 billion wartime reparation. North Korea's buy-order was effectively confirmed in the vaguely-worded "Pyongyang Declaration" by Kim and his counterparty when the first summit meeting took place on September 17, 2002 in the capital of the DPRK. Subsequently it was reconfirmed time and again at the second summit meeting and the series of "working-level" meetings. It's no wonder Pyongyang became indignant at the Tokyo's wavering move which Kim thought constituted a downright breach of trust.

As for the family members of the abductees, it's a pity to see them invigorated all anew by the Abe government and the media as if their missing children and siblings are all alive and can be brought back with the worn-out "pressure and dialogue" policy inherited from Junichiro Koizumi. I used to admire their perseverance. But not anymore. Too much perseverance sometimes indicates lack of learning ability.

So what can we do to effectively deal with the ever-worsening situation? Sorry to say, there's absolutely nothing we can realistically do to that end.

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