The English-language media seized on the “extremely regrettable” comment that Shoichi Nakagawa, Finance Minister and well-known hardliner, made with regard to the U.S. delisting of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and took it as the expression of Japanese displeasure. There was one article that even speculated that Japan might stop the U.S.-DPRK agreement at the Six-Party Talks. In fact, Mr. Nakagawa’s words had served only to let off steam. That should have been clear from the circumstances and the wording.
First, the easy one. The Finance Minister does not speak for Japan on North Korea’s nuclear issue. He has as much authority with regard to the Six-Party talks as the death penalty. Or reproductive rights. And the list goes on.
Second, for “regrettable”, he used, “残念”, more a show of disappointment than “遺憾”, the word used in officialdom to register a protest or issue an apology. (It totally depends on the context; I know, that’s weird and somewhat weasely, but no more so than the “I’m sorry if you were offended” apology favored by American public figures.) “残念” lacks direction; it does not make any demands, explicit or implicit, on the Bush administration. In today’s Upper House Budget Committee Q&A, Prime Minister Aso used the word “不満”, or “dissatisfied”. Mr. Aso also avoided the most obvious choice of words if he had intended to register an official protest. The two political veterans knew what they were doing; “不満”, like ”残念”, are emotive words. What the two men did was to use words that are high on emotion but low on action in order to soothe local discontent while minimizing friction with the Bush administration.
What all this means is that North Korea is now a nuclear pseudo-power; China and South Korea will provide its upkeep, but Japan will not, and the abduction issue will recede into the background, until North Korea sees a way to use it to its economic advantage. That is the new status quo, the new equilibrium.