Monday, July 07, 2008

Of Conventional Wisdom: Japan Sidelined in Six-Party Talks? Think Again. Plus, President Bush’s Interview on the Abductees

The Six-Party Talks are, needless to say, first and foremost about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, where North Korea tries to get as much food, fuel and cash and to have as many sanctions canceled as possible while giving up as little of its program as possible. But the Japanese government has insisted on using the Six-Party Talks as a means to resolving the abductees issue to the Japanese public’s satisfaction. It has refused to give any aid to North Korea without meaningful progress on the abductees issue. This has led people to claim that Japan has been sidelined from the main event. That argument, however, is at best a half-truth.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself the following question: Would North Korea have given up any part of its nuclear program over and above what Chris Hill has negotiated if Japan had been more forthcoming with food, fuel, and cash, and easing of sanctions? You may be thinking, maybe, who knows? If you are, though, just look at South Korea. South Korea has been North Korea’s sugar daddy since Kim Dae-jung opened the Blue House coffers to his Pyongyang counterpart, well before any of this began. So has anything South Korea done had any effect on the Six-Party Talks? Even China, unwilling to see the Kim Jong Il regime collapse, is willing to turn the screw just hard enough to keep the process going, nothing more. And does anyone know what Russia is doing there?

The Six-Party Talks process is just a shell for the bilateral negotiations between a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and North Korea. North Korea is not trading away any part of its nuclear weapons program for anything that anyone other than the United States can provide. This is because North Korea has chosen to continue to use the United States as its raison d’être, the bogeyman that the Kim Jong Il is protecting the North Korean people from. If the Japanese government had decided not to make the abductees an issue for the Six-Party Talks, it would have footed part of the food and fuel bills. Nothing more, nothing less, just like South Korea, China, and Russia. And that is all that Japan is missing out on.

Much has been made here of the fact that President Bush gave an interview to the Japanese media and talked about the abductees issue, just days before he flew over here for the Toyako Summit in Hokkaido. Message? I care. At the same time, the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo also asked to meet the Yokotas. Message? I care.

If Mr. Bush had really wanted to do something about it, he would have talked to the U.S. media, he would have talked to the Chinese media, he would have talked to the South Korean media… Predictably, the story was completely ignored outside Japan.

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