Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why Did Abe Dispatch a Senior Advisor to North Korea?

I have no way of knowing, which is probably a good thing, since I wouldn’t be able to talk about it if I did, would I? But I do have some thoughts around it, helped by a few healthy servings of generic whiskey, in case you’re interested.

1)    Park Geun-hye is not the first South Korean head of state to address a joint Congressional session. And we get it: South Korea has shed a lot of blood for the United States in Vietnam, Afghanistan and where else, whereas we haven’t even made up our minds to come to the protection of US warships patrolling nearby waters. Still, it must have been galling for Abe, who served Prime Minister Koizumi, famously denied by Congress for daring to go to Yasukuni during his tenure, and is in his second round as prime minister himself, to see Congress give her an opportunity to give an oblique kick to Japanese dignity. BTW what do Karzai and al-Maliki have that Koizumi and Abe don’t? Okay, wrong question.
2)    South Korea has vastly more at risk with regard to North Korea than Japan. We worry about rogue missiles, which may or may not carry a nuclear warhead in the possibly not-too-distant future. South Korea must worry about an all-out land war and a massive influx of refugees and a multitrillion-dollar reconstruction undertaking or, worse, North Korea’s absorption into China for all practical purposes, if not legal.
3)    Making nice with North comes with little if any economic costs to Japan. Abe has already managed to put Japan into play with regard to the TPP negotiations and now the Obama administration did not put a hold on LNG exports to Japan because of Iijima’s North Korean sojourn.
4)    And hey, Abe proved, as has been done time and time again, that the North Koreans are rational. And that should count for something.
5)    South Koreans are not going to settle for anything less than total acceptance of their national myths. Abe cannot afford that, even if he were inclined to do so, which he is not. And without that, at least one distinguished delegate from New Jersey is going to put a hold on a Japanese prime minister from addressing a joint congressional session. So, so much for that.

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