China is waging economic war against S. Korea. We must stand by our ally.

Less than two years ago, I wrote of the coming Korea missile crisis. That crisis has now arrived. As I’ve documented at this site, that crisis is, in large part, a crisis of China’s making. North Korean missiles are made in part from Chinese technology, in large part from components purchased in or smuggled through China, and that are almost always procured by North Korean agents who operate more-or-less openly on Chinese soil. North Korea’s missiles ride on Chinese trucks. North Korea’s nukes and missiles were paid for by dollars laundered through Chinese banks, by commerce (much of it illicit) that passed through Chinese ports. 

Now that those missiles have matured into a grave threat to our allies in South Korea and Japan, and to the Americans (and their family members) stationed on allied soil, the U.S. has deployed defensive missiles to both countries. Now, China has the unmitigated gall to object to South Korea defending itself against a made-in-China threat from North Korea, presumably because missile defense weakens China’s own capacity to bully those allies, Taiwan, and perhaps even the United States.

Since 2006, China has voted for seven U.N. Security Council resolutions (1695, 1718, 1874, 2087, 2094, 2270 and 2321) and proceeded to violate all seven of them almost immediately. Why? Probably because China’s long-term strategic objective was to use North Korea to intimate South Korea, drive a wedge into the U.S.-South Korean alliance, push U.S. forces out of Korea, and then apply the same strategy to Japan. China probably realizes that by backing Kim Jong-un it’s riding a tiger, but it still prefers coddling a Caligula with nukes to allowing one free Korea to arise on its border. China’s grand strategy stands a strong chance of succeeding. Many South Koreans would sacrifice some of their personal freedom and national independence for fear of war or recession. Right now, the people of South Korea are looking to us. They wonder if they can still count on us.

That’s because China, which is opposed to unilateral sanctions except when it isn’t, has just started a trade war with South Korea to disarm the wrong Korea — the one that’s trying to defend itself against the missiles it helped North Korea build. China is closing South Korean stores on administrative pretexts, canceling group tours by Chinese tourists to South Korea, imposing pretexual inspections on South Korean agricultural products, and disrupting other South Korean investments in China. Militarily, we are standing by our ally. THAAD, though by no means a defense against all of North Korea’s threats to Seoul, can stop the largest missiles that carry the most dangerous (read: nuclear) warheads. Diplomatically, we’re saying we stand behind South Korea, and the Secretary of State has just announced a visit to Seoul. Those are good first steps toward showing U.S. resolve in standing by its ally. But if the U.S. isn’t just as prepared to stand by its ally economically as it is militarily and diplomatically, South Korea may well be finlandized as a Chinese satellite under a future President Moon Jae-in, who is no friend of America

To prevent this, the U.S. must send Beijing a strong message of economic deterrence. A trade war with China would be bad for both countries, but worse for China, with its heavy reliance on exports to the U.S. and the dollar economy. Beijing is using its economic power to attack U.S. security interests and those of our allies. We can’t stand for this. As with any other war not of our choice, economic war would come with costs. The question is whether the costs of not fighting back exceed the costs of fighting back. In this case, the cost of not fighting back could include the breakdown of the security system that has freed and enriched billions of people in northeast Asia, the U.S., and (indirectly) around the world. It would include a significant setback in our efforts to prevent North Korea from irreversibly defeating the cause of global nonproliferation. Measures to mitigate the impact on South Korea are only a partial answer. We must also deter a China that is testing a new president’s resolve with a strategy that is at least as dangerous as anything it has done in the South China Sea. That is worth bearing significant economic costs. And there are ways we can, and should, respond.

1. The first and most obvious target should be the Chinese banks that are breaking U.S. law to finance Kim Jong-un’s proliferation. That’s something we should be doing regardless of China’s bullying of South Korea, so arguably, it doesn’t belong on this list at all. Still, China’s bullying might affect the strategy we use and the aggressiveness with which we implement it.

2. U.N. Security Council resolutions require all ports to inspect cargo going to or coming from North Korea. China’s ports clearly aren’t doing that. Under section 205 of the NKSPEA, Customs and Border Protection has the authority to increase inspections of cargo coming from those noncompliant ports. Ports in China’s economically depressed northeast, particularly those that import coal in violation of U.N. sanctions, should be at the top of our target list (but only one or two smaller ports, initially). The effect of such a sanction would be greatly magnified if the South Korea and Japan join it; after all, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan are China’s three largest trading partners. As they might say in New Jersey, it’s time for some traffic problems in Dandong. 

[Hey, it’s Donald. I think I have a job for you after all.]

3. China’s protectionism, censorship, and hacking make its IT companies good targets for sanctions, particularly through a more aggressive posture by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. and the aggressive policing of technology transfers. Yesterday’s actions against ZTE industries, which included the imposition of a $1 billion fine, are an example of the actions the U.S. could take to prevent China from stealing and selling U.S. technology to our enemies. Importantly, those actions suggest that the Trump administration has revoked China’s de facto immunity from the consequences of breaking U.S. law. As with our money laundering laws, we should enforce our export control and intellectually property laws regardless of how China treats North Korea, but China’s behavior against South Korea can influence our prosecutorial discretion in how aggressively we enforce those laws.

4. As mentioned, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan are China’s top three trading partners. Does China really want a trade war against all three of those economies when its banking sector is teetering under mountains of debt, when it’s trying to deflate a real estate bubble, and when it’s struggling to retain control of its currency and its stock market? Again, a trade war would be bad for everyone; the strategy is to deter China and force it to retreat by making sure it knows it would get the worst of one. The three allies share a strong interest in keeping the U.S.-Korea alliance strong to protect them from a common North Korean threat. For Japan, joining that economic alliance would have the advantage of balancing its villainous image in South Korea with the reality that it can also be a strong ally for South Korea’s security. By identifying appropriate targets in China for sectoral sanctions and combining their economic weight, the three allies can force China to back down and behave reasonably. Some of those targets might include products that include North Korean labor or materials, including seafood, textiles, and precious metals. Targets should be chosen to cause the maximum amount of economic and social unrest in China.

South Korea’s response to China has a political component, too. Its political right should play the anti-China nationalist card as shamelessly the political left played the anti-American nationalist card in 2003. It has criticized the left for cozying up to China in the midst of China’s economic bullying, and should intensify that criticism, making any preemptive capitulation to China an election-year liability for the political left. Both sides in Korea have long played the anti-Japan nationalism card, which continues to put distance between two natural allies over events that concluded 72 years ago. Not one comfort woman can still be saved from the predations of imperial Japan, but thousands of (North) Korean women who are sold as sex slaves in China still can be. I wonder if it might finally occur to Beijing that its bullying is backfiring if human rights activists put a statue of one of those trafficked women in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. At the very least, it might make a few South Koreans stop to think about how China treats North Korean women, and whether that treatment is a metaphor for what China thinks of Koreans generally.

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Of the North’s crimes against humanity, the world will ask, “Where was South Korea?”

South Korea’s political left, which has long been divided over whether to be violently pro-North Korean, ideologically pro-North Korean, or merely anti-anti-North Korean, has again blocked a vote in South Korea’s National Assembly on a North Korean human rights law that’s been languishing there since 2005. The law itself is weak bori-cha. It had been watered down until it did little more than fund NGOs seeking direct engagement with the North Korean people. But even as a symbolic gesture, as a beginning, and as a small preemptive apology to history, the bill deserved to pass.

The bill includes provisions to create a North Korean Human Rights Foundation that could fund non-governmental groups to conduct research and seek to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, educate South Koreans about rights conditions in North Korea, and provide humanitarian aid in line with international monitoring standards. The law would also establish a system to document and archive information about rights abuses by the North Korean government and its leaders that could be used for future efforts to pursue accountability for rights crimes, in line with similar international efforts.

The action by South Korea would help intensify international pressure on North Korea over its horrendous rights record, and would bring South Korea in line with other countries focused on rights concerns in North Korea. [Human Rights Watch]

On one hand, Korea’s left wants to use “quiet diplomacy” to address North Korea’s widespread, horrific, and present-day crimes against humanity — quiet diplomacy that in practice has never meant or accomplished anything. On the other hand, it fans the public and often hysterical rage against Japan over crimes against humanity that, as horrible as they were, happened 70 to 90 years ago in a world where mass murder and enslavement briefly became the global norm from Mauthausen to Babi Yar to Nanking to the Kolyma River.

There is no question that those past crimes justify rage. All the more so, when the Japanese government continues, incredibly, to say idiotic things like this. Although, it must be said, Japan has at least managed to pass a North Korean human rights law. That’s more than South Korea can say.

South Koreans’ rage against Japan’s past crimes is both sincere and justified. In the case of South Korea’s political left, it is also breathtakingly hypocritical when viewed alongside its culpable silence about Pyongyang’s present-day “crimes against humanity, arising from ‘policies established at the highest level of State,’” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Here is a dismal and undeniable fact: no amount of rage will save even one of the aging Korean women who suffered so much at the hands of the Japanese army so long ago. It may, with a generous assist from some influential idiots in Japan, mean that the last survivors among them die without the small and inadequate measure of compensation promised to them. But fanning anti-Japanese is a convenient way for some Korean politicians — and for the Chinese and North Korean governments — to exploit them for all their political value until the end of their days. And for good reason, at least for South Korea’s cynical politicians and rapacious neighbors: it may help them dissolve a nascent security alliance that every sober-minded observer knows both countries need, thereby endangering millions of people, both born and yet to be born. 

Meanwhile, the world is waiting for South Korea’s rage against what goes on today, even as I write, and even as you read:

• Mr Ahn Myong-chol explained that there is no designated burial spot for inmates or a Korean-style tomb. Instead, they were simply placed in shallow holes in collective burial sites: “They sometimes buried bodies over other bodies. As we are digging the ground and we sometimes found the bones, and so if there is a [prison] mine, then surrounding hills, and mountains would be something like a cemetery. There is no actual cemetery for political prisoners…”

• Mr Kang Chol-hwan remembered that he buried over 300 bodies during his 10 years in Political Prison Camp No. 15 at Yodok. Inmates assigned to bury the bodies stripped them of their clothes so as reuse or barter them. Eventually, the camp authorities simply bulldozed the hill used for burials to turn it into a corn field: “As the machines tore up the soil, scraps of human flesh reemerged from the final resting place; arms and legs and feet, some still some still stockinged, rolled in waves before the bulldozer. I was terrified. One of friends vomited.

The guards then hollowed out a ditch and ordered a few detainees to toss in all the corpses and body parts that were visible on the surface.”

781. Former prisoners and guards interviewed by the Commission all concurred that death was an ever present feature of camp life. In light of the overall secrecy surrounding the camp, it is very difficult to estimate how many camp inmates have been executed, were worked to death or died from starvation and epidemics. However, based on the little the outside world knows about the horrors of the prison camps, even a conservative estimate leads the Commission to find that hundreds of thousands of people have perished in the prison camps since their establishment more than 55 years ago. [U.N. Commission of Inquiry report]

What can still save Korean women, men, and children is for South Koreans to lead the world in speaking out against these crimes, and against the Chinese government for enabling them. That will not happen as long as South Korea is confused and divided, and as long as the rest of the world asks, “Where is South Korea?”

Germany 1945

[As the Germans and the Japanese did before them, they will say they did not know.]

Indeed, for generations, the world will ask, “Where was South Korea?” 

“South Korea arguably has the greatest interest of any country in improving human rights in North Korea, yet unlike some of its allies, it has made no legislative commitment to that task,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Passing this bill would ensure that human rights issues in the North are not pushed aside for political convenience on the Korean peninsula, now or in the future.” [Human Rights Watch]

Modern South Korea’s apathy to the mass murder of its countrymen in the North isn’t just an embarrassment to its own history. It is an embarrassment to human history.

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Update: The Korea Times is now reporting that the bill’s proponents will try again. Hat tip: Jonathan Cheng.

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The WaPo has noticed how Korean-Americans’ political power

… in northern Virginia has grown dramatically in recent years, and accuses politicians of “pandering” to them. To that, I’d ask you to name any well-organized constituency that can’t make a politician pander now and then, and I’ll show you a constituency that isn’t organized at all. We have the worst political system there is, except for all of the others, and in our political system, constituencies matter very much.

The WaPo dwells on what it doesn’t like about the uses of this new power, but as one who has personally encouraged Korean-Americans to embrace and harness that power, I think the editors also overlook the extent to which Korean-Americans are emerging as a powerful liberating force on their ancestral homeland (second item) and on our government’s policy toward North Korea. Inevitably, as the generations change, the sensibilities and priorities of Korean-Americans will increasingly mesh with those of other Americans, but that doesn’t have to mean forgetting Korea’s interests, history, and perspective.

No, I suppose I’m no more excited about “East Sea” than I would be about asking Koreans to call the Gulf of Mexico the South Gulf, because place names should have universal descriptive value, but I have a very different view of recognizing the comfort women, only some of whom were Korean. If the fear of making German tourists uncomfortable didn’t prevent us from building a Holocaust Museum on the National Mall, I don’t see why Japanese-Americans (except deniers) should feel any discomfort about a comfort women memorial government behind the Fairfax County Government Center. The test for any historical recognition should not be whom it might offend, but whether it is true.

I also have to wonder if we’d be seeing any of this controversy today if it weren’t for the stupidity of Shinzo Abe.

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U.S. urges Japan to rejoin coalition against N. Korea

When Japan’s ransom deal with North Korea threatened to fracture the regional coalition pressuring Pyongyang to end its nuclear programs, I was critical of the Obama Administration for failing to use its influence to prevent Japan’s defection. As leaks to the Japanese press have since confirmed, however, someone in the White House subsequently arrived a similar conclusion. Soon thereafter, the administration began some desperate behind-the-scenes diplomacy to press Japan to get back on the team:

A senior White House official said the multilateral sanctions imposed to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program should not be sacrificed by Tokyo in exchange for greater cooperation by Pyongyang to resolve the abduction issue involving Japanese nationals.

The message was delivered by Ben Rhodes, a senior National Security staffer, on July 3rd. Under Japan’s deal with North Korea, Japan agreed to “ease restrictions on travel” and “allow port calls by some North Korean registered ships and money transfers” to North Korea, in exchange for North Korea’s agreement to “investigate” its abductions of Japanese.

Rhodes raised the possibility that the Abe administration’s deal with North Korea could adversely affect cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea in trying to prevent Pyongyang from pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities.

“I think it’s important, though, that they send a message that this is not going to ‘let North Korea off the hook’ for the nuclear issue,” he said. The deputy national security adviser said U.S. President Barack Obama is well aware of the Japanese position of wanting to resolve the abduction issue.

However, Rhodes indicated that Japan should not expand the range of sanctions it relaxes against North Korea, especially if they are related to measures based on U.N. Security Council resolutions that were issued in the wake of three underground nuclear tests by North Korea. “The overarching point is that the security threat posed to Japan and the region, and the world, for North Korea’s nuclear program and its missile program cannot be set aside if there is progress made on the abductee issue,” Rhodes said.

He said the three countries need to continue working together to apply pressure on North Korea regarding its nuclear program. “All of us in the six-party talks, and particularly the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea, I think, want to be very forthcoming with one another about how we’re looking at the nuclear issue,” Rhodes said. [Asahi Shimbun]

Things have now gone so far that John Kerry has been forced to plead with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discourage him from visiting North Korea.

In his telephone talks with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on July 7, Kerry requested that Japan hold behind-the-scenes consultations with the United States in advance should Tokyo consider a visit to North Korea by Abe, according to the sources.

The top U.S. diplomat also expressed displeasure over Japan’s policy of gradually lifting its unilateral sanctions on North Korea depending on progress in the new round of investigations into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s. [….]

Kerry, who spent most of his telephone talks with Kishida on the issue of sanctions on North Korea, asked Japan to be careful about additionally removing sanctions, according to the sources. [Mainichi Shimbun]

While it’s good news that the administration understands the critical importance of concerted pressure on North Korea, it may have waited too long to speak up. The abduction issue is an extremely emotional one for Japanese voters, and it probably eclipses North Korea’s nuclear threat in Japan’s national (and thus, political) consciousness. Japan can’t walk away from this deal now, but it can be prepared to walk away if (or rather, when) North Korea reneges.

Still, cooler heads in Japan understand, first, that North Korea has an extremely poor track record for keeping its agreements, and second, that the nuclear issue holds all Japanese hostage in a very real sense.

It is crucial that a concerted international approach to the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program and missiles be maintained, and that Japan share information with and gain the understanding of both the U.S. and South Korea toward a resolution on the abduction issue. The challenge has only just begun. [Editorial, Mainichi Shimbun]

I feel some sympathy for the Obama Administration, which inherited a bad situation from its predecessors. For years, the Clinton and Bush Administrations had included North Korea’s abductions of Japanese as a key reason for U.S. sanctions against North Korea — and particularly, of its listing of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Bush’s ill-advised 2007 deal with North Korea dropped those sanctions for a deal that North Korea began to break almost before the ink on its signature dried. This deal followed the most minimal of consultations with the Japanese government and nearly threw it into crisis. No wonder Japan feels no obligation to coordinate with the U.S. before cutting its own deal with Pyongyang.

But while the Bush Administration is responsible for setting up this prisoners’ dilemma, the Obama Administration had months of warning that Tokyo was interested in cutting a deal with Pyongyang. Indeed, despite overwhelming evidence of North Korea’s sponsorship of terrorism and the lack of progress on the abduction issue, it squandered numerous opportunities to restore North Korea to the list, and to make Pyongyang’s failure to return Japanese abductees a specific reason for that action.

That small gesture toward the interests of an important ally would have cemented the coalition against Pyongyang and shown Tokyo that sticking with the coalition was the best way to achieve its interests and get its abducted citizens back. It’s still not too late to make that gesture, and last week’s news provides more opportunities for the administration to make it.

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In another area, Japan shows signs of stepping back from a position that had disgusted its allies and delighted its enemies — its flirtations with denying its responsibility for the “comfort women” during World War II:

The Japanese government assured South Korea on Wednesday that it will uphold an official apology over frontline brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II for which mainly Asian women were procured.

Junichi Ihara, head of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, made the assurance in a meeting with Lee Sang Deok, head of the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said. [Kyodo News]

Japan’s re-litigation of this issue is one of the most spectacularly ill-advised things I’ve seen in the ten years I’ve been writing here. It secured nothing of value for Japan’s interests, did serious damage to Japan’s standing in Washington, as Korean-American constituents mobilized their representatives to protest it, and disrupted a budding alliance with South Korea that could prove crucial to a common defense against Chinese aggression in the Pacific. I hope this means that on this issue, too, cooler heads have won the day.

For more background on the comfort women issue, see this op-ed by Sung Yoon Lee and Zachary Przystup, and this one by Dennis Halpin.

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Once Again, More Slowly: Isolating the North Korean People Only Helps Kim Jong Il

Now it’s a Japanese government minister suggesting that Japan shouldn’t grant visas to North Korean athletes.

I fear an important distinction is being lost here. On the one hand, I strongly agree with the need to isolate the North Korean regime financially — to do no harm, to refuse to sustain or legitimize an evil system of government. On the other hand, I recognize that maintaining the isolation of the North Korean people actually helps sustain that system. Because the North Korean regime usually demands financial and propaganda concessions as precondition to engagement, and because the harmful effects of those preconditions tends to outweigh the modest benefits of any engagement, I oppose most of those engagement projects in practice (see any of my arguments with my friend Andrei Lankov on this point). But this is not to deny Andrei’s major premise — that isolation supports the North Korean system, and that breaking that isolation corrodes it.

Kim Jong Il allows very limited contact between ostensibly loyal citizens and the outside world for propaganda purposes. He believes that he is creating a positive image for his regime, and that the citizens he exposes to the outside world have no lasting and subversive impressions based on what they see. He is wrong on both counts. This sort of engagement cannot fail to have a subversive effect on people who have never seen traffic jams, or forests of gleaming skyscrapers, some with massive TV screens mounted on them. Unfortunately, it’s often outweighed by some financial benefit the regime recoups, and in some cases, by the stupidity and ignorance of the morally retarded.

The North Korean government ought to pay its own expenses and should not be allowed to profit financially from the visit. But we should not believe that we hurt Kim Jong Il — as opposed to helping him keep his people isolated — by excluding North Koreans from contact with the outside world.

If the goal is to damage Kim Jong Il’s regime, I can think of any number of more constructive approaches, including giving the team members and coaches assurances that they’d be received if they defect. And given the history of North Korean athletes failing drug tests recently, I’d get plenty of urine samples. Finally, there is no reason why North Korean visitors need to be shielded from demonstrators protesting against the regime’s abuses of its own people, or its abductions of Japanese citizens. Let them experience how people in free societies really view His Withering Majesty. And make sure the tour bus passes through Shibuya both to and from the airport — at night.

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The Decline and Fall of Chongryon

The Daily NK has an interesting two-parter on the history and decline of North Korea’s front organization in Japan, here and here. Once a major source of income for Kim Il Sung’s regime, its decline under Kim Jong Il’s rule can all be attributed to (surprise!) North Korea’s nastiness and mismanagement.

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So Far, Few Hints that Japan’s N. Korea Policy Will Shift

Sure, there’s been plenty of cross-Pacific bitching about U.S.-Japan alliance and basing issues, but there’s no sign that Prime Minister Hatoyama will shift Japan’s North Korea policy yet.  Japan is showing off its ability to shoot down North Korean missiles, and for now, Japan’s government is adhering to a hard line on North Korea and discouraging America from departing from one.

The abduction issue is highly emotional in Japan, and Hatoyama probably couldn’t provide aid, loosen trade restrictions, or open talks on diplomatic relations without risking the wrath of the voters.

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Japan Threatens to Shoot Down North Korean Missile

I wonder how this would play on the Korean street, North and South:

The Japanese government could deploy two arsenal ships equipped with the latest Aegis radar system and interceptor Standard Missile in the East Sea if North Korea continues to prepare for a missile test, the Kyodo news agency reported Tuesday citing a senior official at the Japanese Ministry of Defense….

Tokyo warned North Korea it would intercept not only missiles but also a satellite launched by the communist country. The Sankei Shimbun quoted Japanese Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada as saying, “It is natural to react to even a satellite if it can cause serious damage when it falls down to Japan.” [Chosun Ilbo]

It might be good for the LDP’s approval ratings, though.

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Japanese Human Rights Group Launches Spam Fax Campaign Against N. Korea

The Japanese NGO ReACH, which advocates for the return of abducted Japanese citizens and for human rights in North Korea, has assembled a long list of known North Korean fax numbers, which I’ve published here for all the world to see, below the fold. REACH is calling on Japan’s massive community of netizens (and you, too!) to send spam faxes to these numbers, and offers some recommendations to maximize the subversive/disruptive effect if you decide to join the fun:

– Starting with the obvious: the message should be in Korean. I have a limited capacity to translate a few of these.

– Think about how the recipient will perceive what you’re saying. Invective and insults will only reinforce xenophobic programming, and it should go without saying that few North Koreans will appreciate your biting satire. Keep the tone supportive and sympathetic.

– Keep it factual. Hyperbole and fiction are much less persuasive than facts.

– Practical and useful information is more likely to be read.

– Don’t send the same old thing to the same fax a hundred times. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

– In North Korea, it’s illegal to throw away anything with an image of Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung. Imagine how confused they’ll be receiving a fax with a picture of Kim Jong Il like this one. While anecdotal information suggests that most North Koreans have little use for Kim Jong Il, there’s still plenty of residual reverence for Kim Il Sung. If I were designing a fax to send, I’d concentrate on His Porcine Majesty as a propaganda foil: health and succession rumors, his opulent lifestyle, and reports of the severity of the famine (residents of Pyongyang may still not realize how bad the famine was in other parts of the country).

– The grand prize in this contest is a return fax, a letter, message, or other verified confirmation that someone is reading your information. If that happens, I’d love to know, but for God’s sake don’t post which numbers fax you back anywhere on the net (if a number is non-working, drop me a line and I’ll take it off the list). In theory, if we can come up with a list of numbers that are actually receiving the information, it would be possible to send regular summaries of news reports to Pyongyang’s samizdat grapevine.

You have to admit that the targeting here is a lot more precise than those leaflet balloons. REACH is asking for your best designs, so feel free to e-mail them to me (see third sidebar) and I’ll forward them along. I’ll post the best ones here.

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Get a Load of This Aso.

The tepid and unpopular Yasuo Fukuda, who showed signs of softening Japan’s policies toward North Korea, is out, and Foreign Minister Taro Aso looks like the front-runner to replace him. 

Fukuda recently installed former Foreign Minister Taro Aso as secretary-general of the ruling party. Aso has kept a low profile during nearly all of Fukuda’s term and could be seen as offering a fresh start for the party.  [AP]

Is this good news or bad news?  The answer is “yes!” 

On the positive side, Aso is one of the hardest of hard-liners on North Korea policy in Japan’s mainstream, a term whose meaning  Aso may have single-handedly expanded.  He’s been a critic of Chinese and South Korean aid to the North, commenting in 2006 to the Budget Committee of  his country’s House of Councillors, “South Korea and China are helping North Korea. I can’t understand why they do so?” 

Following the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 in 2006, following North Korea’s technically semi-successful but diplomatically successful nuclear test, Aso offered Japan’s help to  the U.S. Navy to inspect and search North Korean ships for banned cargoes.  He has been a proponent of Japan’s new war contingency legislation, which steps away from Japan’s post-war constitutional pacificism.

Also on the bright side, Robert can now hope that that knish he’s been longing for may be just a 2-hour flight away:

He also drew criticism in 2001 when, as economics minister, he said he hoped to make Japan the kind of country where “rich Jews” would want to live.

Aso said then he had not intended to be discriminatory.  [The Standard, Hong Kong]

I wish Foreign Minister Aso zol zayn mit mazel  recruiting any  Jewish person on this earth  who’d want to deplete his retirement paying $30  a  knish, but let’s view this as a step in the right direction from seeing Japan as  “one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race*,” which is itself  just a step away from … me, flagrantly  violating Godwin’s Law:

Upper house speaker Satsuki Eda of the opposition Democratic Party told Aso in a meeting that the electorate was shifting away from the LDP, the Nikkei financial daily and other papers said.

Apparently irritated, Aso told Eda: “If you look at history, you will see that as a result of the people moving away from the party of government, regimes like the Nazis have come into power,” the Nikkei reported.

Yukio Hatoyama, Democratic Party secretary-general, called for an apology.  [Reuters]

Aso made this  comment was less than 30 days ago, which doesn’t suggest that he’s outgrown his gift of gaffe. 

It may or may not be significant that Aso is the heir to a mining company that employed POW’s and Koreans as slave laborers, but Aso isn’t exactly  known for  angst-ridden reflection on Japan’s past. 

In May 2003, Aso caused an uproar in South Korea after he made comments that were interpreted as an attempt to justify some of the actions Japan imposed on the Koreans during its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula. Japan forced Koreans to change their names to Japanese ones during the time, but Aso said that the measure initially began when some Koreans had asked for Japanese names.    [China Post]

Aso later apologized to South Koreans “for having hurt their feelings.”  I predict he’ll set the Chinese and Korean netizens off more than one, and more than  twice.

There’s plenty more where that came from, such as this gem: 

“Japan is doing what Americans can’t do,” local media quoted Mr Aso as saying in a speech about Japan-sponsored investment in the Middle East. “Japanese are trusted. It would probably be no good to have blue eyes and blond hair. Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces.”  [The Guardian]

By that logic, was it really such a good idea for Japan to participate in the six-party talks at all? 

Curzon Curzon at Coming Anarchy  isn’t much of a fan, either.  But keep it in  perspective, fellow bloggers.  As long as Taro Aso remains in office, you’ll have a lot fewer days of wondering what to write. 

Now for the downside:  if Lee Myung Bak’s popularity dives under 20% again, can the Tokdo War be far behind?

*   Note that the Roman Catholic Aso left out religion.

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Tokdo: Now Officially the Dumbest International Crisis in History

… thus supplanting all of that Seige of Troy unpleasantness.

I cannot say that South Korea would be much the worse for having dismissed Ambassador Lee Tae Shik from his post, but that is incidental to the skull-smacking stupidity of why:

The government on Monday decided to call Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Tae-shik to account if it is found that the embassy did not react promptly to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names listing Dokdo under “undesignated sovereignty.” The change, from a clear indication of Korea’s sovereignty, appears to play into the hands of Japanese attempts to portray the islets as disputed territory. [Chosun Ilbo]

Even the Foreign Minister’s job may be in peril over this insignificant development in the dispute over two insignificant and uninhabitable lumps of guano.

Wait.  It gets even dumber:

South Korea could stop cooperating with Japan in six-party talks on denuclearising North Korea if their territorial dispute worsens, Seoul’s ambassador to Tokyo said Thursday.  South Korea has already rejected a Japanese proposal for foreign ministerial talks next week on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Singapore.

Japan’s reaffirmed claim to South Korean-controlled islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) has sparked anger and public protests in Seoul, which recalled ambassador Kwon Chul-Hyun this week.  The furore began when Japan Monday published new educational guidelines calling on students to have a deeper understanding of their country’s claim to the islands known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

“The worst thing happened at a time when South Korea and Japan need to cooperate as partners in various aspects internationally,” Kwon told reporters.

He said South Korea has been cooperating with Japan in issues arising in six-party talks such as North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens.

“If public opinion worsens at home or political circles strongly oppose such cooperation, we have no other choice but to take it into consideration,” Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.  [AFP]

Somewhere, Kim Jong Il is smiling. 

If Occam’s Razor is of any use in explaining this, it means that the current South Korean government is just as infantile, irrational, and emotional as its predecessor.  What is particularly  reprehensible and self-defeating about  South  Korea’s threat  is that by using the abduction issue in this way,  it is functually using North Korean terrorism as a negotiating instrument.  It would do this  notwithstanding the fact that North Korea is committing the same continuing pattern of terrorism against hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of South Koreans who are being held against their will in the North — South Koreans that President Lee Myung Bak until recently feigned interest in bringing home.   

That, in turn,  would be  further evidence that an alliance with South Korea is not worth the strategic risks it brings for the United States.   In that case,  the United States would be better off not to include South Korea in any regional security framework whose presence it would only gum up with manipulated faux crises at critical moments.   Such an  alliance  has long been needed to deter Chinese expansion or North Korean aggression.  Obvious candidates include Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, and India.  The essential prerequisites must be that member nations must share our  values and  interests … and our basic rational framework. 

Of course, Occam’s Razor allows for  the possibility of more complex explanations.  A few have crossed my mind.  For one thing, Japan has recently  declared that it’s opting out of contributing to  any aid package for North Korea until its abducted citizens are accounted for, so it’s questionable whether South  Korea making good on that threat would mean all that much.  After all,  Japan has already functionally seceded from the six-party process, and the U.S. State Department is driving on anyway, with the South Koreans in tow. 

For another, I’ve suspected for some time that the current South Korean government isn’t entirely fond of our State Department’s total giveaway to the North Koreans, but doesn’t want to say so openly.  Anyone who actually listens to what the North Koreans are saying must realize that Agreed Framework 2.0 isn’t going to disarm North Korea.  If South Korea’s new government  can see the value  of economic pressure in  securing  North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, it must realize that throwing away our leverage won’t help us get Kim Jong Il’s nukes away from him.   You’d think that with advisors as  savvy as Park Jin, the South  Koreans  must realize that the process has descended into an eleventh-hour legacy grasp that will only be an albatross around their necks  after Bush and Rice go off to write their memoirs and leave this problem behind for others to deal with.  Tokdo would seem to be as good an excuse as any to impede that, especially if you’d rather not  antagonize the United States directly.

On balance, however,  the second-simplest explanation is most likely the closest to being correct:  for unpopular presidents, old-fashioned Jap-baiting  will probably always be  the crack cocaine of South Korean politics.  That means there isn’t room for both countries in the same security framework.  And any side-by-side comparison of the two nations’ wealth, military strength, strategic geography, and political stability makes  it very clear which would be the stronger, more reliable ally.

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Oops, We Changed the Wrong Regime

People can differ about the merits of  overthrowing noxious regimes  and the  various ways  that can be pursued, but I’m guessing this is one item  Condoleezza Rice wasn’t  pursuing for her legacy showcase:  Rice’s  sudden  turnabout on  de-listing North  Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism may soon plunge  the Japanese government into crisis

Japan must now  decide whether to join the United States in providing aid to a country that kidnaps and refuses to account for unknown numbers of its citizens, something that would force its government to choose between its most important alliance and overwhelming and strong public opinion.  Japan’s ruling  Liberal Democratic Party  is now  visibly split  over this issue.  One of the strongest critics is former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe:

Abe also emphasized the necessity of maintaining international sanctions on North Korea, saying, “U.S. President George W. Bush said he would never forget about the abduction issue, so I think there still is room for the international community to cooperate to put pressure on the country.”

Besides Abe, many LDP lawmakers also have voiced concern over the U.S. stance on North Korea.

“The United States always jumps to hasty decisions as a presidential election approaches,” LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki said in a lecture in Nara on Friday night. “Former [U.S.] President Bill Clinton ended up being duped by Pyongyang [as he failed to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization]. The government should clearly express its opinions to the U.S. government.”

Abe and other lawmakers have so far refrained from directly criticizing Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s diplomatic approach toward North Korea. However, former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma, who chairs a suprapartisan group of lawmakers seeking the swift return of Japanese abductees and who has close ties with Abe, said to reporters Friday: “Japan has lost a big bargaining chip in resolving the abduction issue. If Japan hastily takes measures to partially ease economic sanctions against North Korea, it won’t bode well for Fukuda’s administration.”  [Yomiuri Shimbun]

One potential beneficiary of public discontent with the LDP might be the Democratic Party of Japan:

DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa criticized the government for insufficient handling of the matter, stressing that the U.S. action is based on “˜”˜its own global strategy and its own interests.”

Sharing a similar view, a senior ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker said, “˜”˜The United States is behaving without regard for others. The logic is that they want to settle the matter during the (President George W) Bush administration.”   [Japan Today]

Beneath a veneer of mature statesmanship seldom seen on the other side of the Sea of Japan, the Japanese are seething at the American betrayal, and at  their own impotence to stop it.  The Japanese are now grasping at the obvious deficiencies of the North Korean declaration itself as their last line of defense.  If Congress lets the Administration de-list North Korea anyway, recriminations in Japan will undoubtedly deepen.  I don’t doubt that to plenty of Japanese statesmen, the lesson taken from this will be the importance of building a security framework less dependent on America.

Below the fold, I’ve posted the transcript of  a brief press conference in Kyoto with Condi Rice and the Japanese Foreign Minister a few days ago  (thanks for a reader).  The takeaway is this response from Foreign Minister Komura, which should be read in light of the art of Japanese understatement:

I’d like to answer to that question from the Japanese press, that on the ““ about the blast of the cooling tower, it might ““ it is not right to — too much focus on that issue.  But it is also unfair that it is meaningless.  And there is also the mentioning that ““ the worrying about the Japan-U.S. alliances, but neither of — myself and Secretary Rice like to please North Korea by endangering the Japan-U.S. alliance.  And I think this is not the interest of anybody. 

Komura  appears to have  crafted those words carefully, and he was ready to say them without being prompted by a reporter. 

Oddly enough, the same crowd that was so recently  wringing its hands  about us alienating our loyal allies in South Korea  has nothing to say  as  Condi Rice’s elbow  could very well  bump over the Prime Minister of our most important Pacific ally, one whose contributions to regional stability and global prosperity far outweigh South Korea’s.  How ironic it would be if North Korean nuclear blackmail and terrorism, helped by Rice’s masterstroke of vainglorious ineptitude, manages to take down Japan’s government and split its alliance with America

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Two More Japanese Escape from N. Korea

The Asahi Shimbun reported on the 26th that a Japanese woman and her 40-year-old son, both of whom defected from North Korea, are being sheltered by the authorities in Jilin, China.

The 73-year-old woman, from Sendai in Japan, migrated to North Korea after her husband joined the Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan) in 1967, and defected from North Korea, reportedly due to the famine, across the Tumen River this spring.

According to the Japanese newspaper, while the Chinese police investigated their illegal entrance into China, the fact that they wanted to go to Japan came to light. The newspaper also reported that the Japanese government has requested their transfer to Japan on humanitarian grounds.  [Daily NK]

I wonder if this has anything to do with North Korea’s rumored “discovery” of more abductees.

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NK Hints More Japanese Abductees May Be Freed

The Japanese NGO ReACH, which advocates on behalf of the families of Japanese abducted by the North Korean regime, is active in Washington D.C. and sometimes sends me e-mails with interesting information.  Today, they inform me that the award-winning “Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story” will air on the PBS program Independent Lens on Tuesday, June 19th, at 10 p.m. Eastern.  (If anyone can find links for listings in their local areas, I’d appreciate it if you’d post them in the comments.)  

This week, the Chosun Ilbo  reported that Ms. Yokota was seen alive as recently as 1994, two months after the North Koreans said the committed suicide, and that she was not well:

According to the newspaper, Fukie Chimura (52), another abduction victim, told Japanese authorities at the end of last year that Yokota moved in next door to her in June 1994. “She lived there for several months, but I don’t know her whereabouts after that,” Chimura was quoted as saying. “She was suffering severe depression and was mentally unstable.” She added a senior North Korean intelligence official was monitoring her.  [Chosun Ilbo]

For us, the story of these abductees is a chronology with a lot of very long gaps.  For them and for their families, this has been  a daily  torture  driving the innocent to madness and despair. 

In the context of regime-sustaining aid from China and South Korea and eventual betrayal by the Bush Administration,  it is  remarkable that Japan has had any success at all  at freeing its people from  North Korea, but it has had some. 

In 2004, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went to Pyongyang, promising aid if the abductees were released and threatening sanctions if they weren’t.  He brought back five abductees, including Hitomi Soga, who  had married U.S. Army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins during her captivity.  But the North Koreans seem to have a compulsive attraction to  exhibitionist brutality and obnoxiousness.  They complained, for example,  that Japan didn’t send the freed hostages  back into captivity.  Later,  they sent Japan  a box of ashes  they claimed were Megumi’s, but which turned out to be those of some poor unmourned  soul who died from God-knows-what.  That  may have been the insult that brought Japan’s rage to a full boil, rage that was expressed in the quiet, effective way that is characteristic of modern Japan. 

In that context, aid to North Korea became politically unthinkable.  Japan eventually severed most trade relations with North Korea, barred North Korean ships from its waters, and largely ran the North Korean front organization Chosen Soren, a/k/a Chongryon, out of business.

For years, the United States publicly and staunchly  stood by its most important Pacific ally in demanding the release of the abductees, but after last year’s State Department policy shift, America withdrew all but meaningful  support by de-linking North Korea’s abductions to its inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terror.*   The shift has left Japan feeling isolated and betrayed, and shows signs of doing significant damage to U.S.-Japan relations.   To keep up appearances, Chris Hill created a “working group” with the rather obvious aim of marginalizing  the issue, but North Korea has never really  been a good-faith participant

But the issue of the abductees is emotional to Japan, and Japan has stuck to its guns.  Today, there is an indication that Japan’s principled and determined protection of its citizens may pay dividends:

North Korea has given the U.S. information about several Japanese, believed to be abductees, living in North Korea and may send them home, a Japanese newspaper reported on Tuesday.  [….]

North Korea appears to be trying to bolster the impression that it is making progress on the abduction issue and hoping to encourage the U.S. to remove it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, the newspaper said, though it is unclear whether the news will actually lead to the return of more abductees.  [Chosun Ilbo]

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who is representing the United States in the six-nation talks, is scheduled to visit Beijing on Tuesday, and will hold talks with North Korea’s representative, Kim Kye Gwan, during his stay. In addition to the topic of a declaration on North Korea’s nuclear programs, the issues of abducted Japanese and the treatment of Japanese in Pyongyang linked to the 1970 hijacking of Japan Airlines “Yodo-go” flight were expected to be discussed.

Government sources said that information on the new abduction victims was conveyed to the United States last autumn. The Japanese government has taken the stance that all of the abduction victims are alive and is demanding their immediate return to Japan.  [Mainichi Daily]

Amazingly, these people aren’t  even among  those 12 the Japanese government officially recognizes as abduction victims.  The Japanese government suspects that the North Koreans have abducted dozens of other Japanese, as this pamphlet provided by the Japanese Embassy illustrates.  According to the Mainichi, Japan “strongly” suspects that North Korea has abducted 36 missing Japanese are abductees, and that as many as 470 more may be abductees.

Although the Japanese government says that the return of all “surving” abductees will settle Japan’s main concerns, the likely Japanese reaction will be to wonder how many of their “missing” fellow citizens the North Koreans really are holding.  As with every North Korean assurance, Japanese will be left wondering why they should believe the North Koreans this time, after they’ve been  told so many lies.  As Japan Probe reminds us, North Korea had said for years that there were no others.

As with any reported agreement with North Korea, this should be viewed with extreme skepticism.   Maybe this is all talk aimed at creating the appearance of progress, just like it was last year.  For North Korea, the calculus is always “what can we afford not to concede?”  Less South Korean aid, less food, and less money  this year means that North Korea  can’t afford not to concede as much as it could in 2007.   But with the United States  desperate to let Kim Jong Il off the hook, it’s questionable whether these Japanese citizens, who were guilty of nothing more than being alone at the wrong place and time, will ever see their families again.

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Equality, Fraternity, Atrocity

A group of lawmakers plans to submit a bill to the Diet mandating government financial compensation for Korean and Taiwanese former Class B and Class C war criminals and their surviving families.  The move, led by Kenta Izumi, a Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) Lower House member, could come as early as the current Diet session.

At issue are those who worked as guards of POWs for the Imperial Japanese military during World War II. The non-Japanese were later denied the same pensions and other compensation paid to Japanese war criminals and their family members.  At the Allied Forces war trials, 321 Koreans and Taiwanese were convicted as “Japanese” of war crimes. The group included 23 Koreans and 26 Taiwanese who were executed. [Asahi Shimbun]

And now, the best part:

The lawmakers’ group will propose the government pay 3 million yen in compensation to each former Class-B and C war criminal, in “a humanitarian spirit.”

Suddenly,  I have a better understanding of why Chinese and Koreans can’t just let bygones be bygones.  It’s moments like these when I realize that language may not be the greatest barrier to cross-cultural understanding. There is almost too much perverse principle in there for words to grasp. You could almost celebrate Japan taking a step toward equality were it not for the countervailing embrace of atrocity. 

Korea contributes to this ugly little anachronism.  Violins at the ready, please:

Izumi said he was greatly moved by the story of Lee Hyok Nae, a Korean who worked at a POW camp run by Japan in Thailand and was later convicted.  Lee, 83, is now chairman of Doshin-kai, a group representing former Korean war criminals that since 1955 has urged Japan to act on the issue.  Hearing Lee’s story, Izumi realized the Diet has never heard the views of these non-Japanese, the lawmaker said. He hopes the bill will receive cross-party support.

Lee was taken from his home on the Korean Peninsula, which from 1910 to 1945 was under Japanese colonial rule, at the age of 17 in 1942. After the war, he was sentenced to death for abusing POWs.

Wanting more details on that last bit, I consulted Mr. Google, who informs me that Japan Probe  has been all over this one.  Lee was convicted of working Australian POW’s to death.   He now lives in Japan.  South Korea ostracizes “collaborators” and was seizing the property of some of their descendants as recently as  last August.   Although the seizures were begun under  the  nationalist-left government of Roh Moo Hyun, the seized land  went up for sale  a month after the inauguration of  a center-right government.  (Did you notice that that last  link goes to, of all places,

Not that I have high expectations that certain  other camp guards  who are  working and starving Korean men, women, and kids  to death at this very hour will be held accountable, either.   In northeast Asia,  it is the  ethnic  identity of the regime, not  the ethnic identity of the victims, or (least of all) the objective evil of the acts themselves that separates criminals from old comrades.   

Hat tip to a reader.

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Get Your Kremlinology Fix Here

Interesting speculation presented for your consideration, although I don’t know how much it is actually true:

The KWP has been scrutinizing the ideologies of high-ranking officials of the party and officials at various organizations, and making new appointments and dismissals in an unprecedented scale. Playing the central role in this undertaking is Kim Johng Chol, the second son of Kim Jong Il and deputy chief of the all powerful Leadership Division of the party, who is said to have been handpicked as his father’s successor. The son is following in the footsteps of his father, who in his young days resorted to purging tactics to consolidate his power.

According to diplomatic sources in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il is preparing to announce his son as the successor after celebrating the centennial of the birth of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 2012.  [Japan Times]

Which assumes a bit much.  They also have a strategy for slipping the noose:

The key strategist in Pyongyang’s relations with South Korea and Japan is Kim Yang Gon, director of the KWP’s United Front Department. One of his principal tasks is to apply pressure on new South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, with a view to minimizing the change in Seoul’s policies toward the North.

He is also said to be the chief architect of the move to establish direct ties with Japanese political parties by circumventing the government of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, whose weakness is obvious after his Liberal Democratic Party lost its majority in the Upper House of the Diet last year. 

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