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Japan woos North Korea for real
Leslie Chung-Hee Park
9/15/2002

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Ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taku Yamasaki, a close associate of Japanís Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, indicated that Koizumiís historic trip to North Korea on September 17 appears to be of practical nature. Many business leaders believe that it could lay the groundwork for future talks.

This trip is expected to include a summit meeting with Kim Jong Il on Tuesday. It is projected that Koizumi will likely raise the issue of some 11 Japanese nationals allegedly abducted by North Korean agents. While the domestic pressure is high for this issue to be raised among other security concerns, Japan needs the normalization of bilateral relations for future geo-political, security, and economic considerations. From another perspective, Kim is expected to demand that Japan compensate and apologize for its occupation of Korea between 1910-45 as a pre-condition for further engagements with Japan.

This landmark summit comes at a time when North Korea feels cornered and deserted by its neighboring states, China and Russia. North Korea has quickly found that these two former comrades in arms are no longer reliable in providing much needed assistance; worse, they constantly betray it at critical times. For example, China is courting South Korea zealously because of its economic needs, and it would support South Korea on most international issues. With few partners in sight, North Korea badly needs some international recognition. In addition, it requires foreign investment to save its economy, which is on the brink of total collapse. Due to its isolation, some Japanese politicians believe that North Korea needs this talk more than Japan does. But is this true?

Many Asia watchers have found Japanís moving closer to North Korea a strategic, long-term plan. First, Japan can gain greater influence in this Asian pacific region by being friendly to a country with capacity for nuclear weapons, and this can neutralize the threat from China and Russia. Second, Japan will potentially acquire access to natural resources in North Korea and open up another great market. This would also help Japan recover from its recent recession. Third, by bringing South Korea into regional politics and having it develop into an economic power, it is beneficial to Japan to let Asian pacific region add another player to the existing regional order which centers around the Communist China. Many people in Japan privately express that both a growing China and a united Korea pose a threat to Japan as neither is particularly fond of Japan due to the past war. From another viewpoint, most Japanese are irritated by their constant and persistent demands for apology and compensation for what happened over 50 years ago.

It remains to be seen what will come of this summit for the immediate future.

* Leslie Chung-Hee Park is a free-lance writer based in Boston. The authorís view does not necessarily reflect that of AFAR.

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