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Japan buys time in Korea

I spent all of yesterday waiting for the collapse of communism in Asia. The clock in the time bomb attached to North Korea's tired, wasted old government maybe slow, but it is still ticking. After 40 years of dictatorial rule by Kim Il Sung, North Korea stands as one of the last bastions of aggressive, militaristic communism on the planet. Now with its communist neighbors China and the Soviet Union economically broke and seeking better relations with the West, North Korea stands isolated. But just when it looked like we could collectively squash the North Korean government into oblivion, Japan is moving in with hoards of capitalist cash to secure better relations with its old enemy.

With industrial production dropping by 3.3 percent a year, North Korea's economy is in worse shape than the Soviets'. With China and the USSR no longer willing or able to supply North Korea with raw materials, and Eastern Europe no longer forced to buy North Korean exports, the nation's international trade is nearly dead. Lacking the hard currency to by oil, grain and other products, the North will have difficulty pulling through the winter. Faced with mounting troubles, North Korea's leaders are looking outward to find allies among their old enemies -- the South Koreans and the Japanese.

South Korea's recent restoration of diplomatic ties with the North, however questionable, seemed inevitable. While the war between the nations may have never ended -- Kim's government was recently implicated in the assassination of a large part of the Southern government's cabinet and the bombing of an airliner -- the cultural ties between the inhabitants of the divided region seems to have survived. Far more alarming than the South's moves for reconciliation has been Japan's recent resumption of diplomatic contacts with the North.

In late September, an influential leader in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party visited Kim in the North's capital, Pyongyang, responding to Kim's earlier indications that an accord between North Korea and Japan would be possible. The meeting ended with a speedy pseudo-treaty between the two nations which stipulates that the North will receive monetary compensation for Japan's domination of North Korea during World War II. While the payment of such reparations seems reasonable, such reimbursement must not be handed over to the present government of the North.

If Japan makes such payments, it would, in effect, declare that North Korea's punishment for its history of waging war against a member of the United Nations and sponsoring terrorism, militarism, and other nastiness is the infusion of enough cash into the North's economy to keep it solvent for years.

Japan has nothing to gain economically from better relations with North Korea; its moves are political. The North shows no signs of allowing Japanese enterprises to open in the North, and the North's rigid, centrally planned economy shows no signs of modernization or change. With one of the world's largest and best trained armies, the North is, however, a large enough threat to security in Asia for Japan to do anything it can to placate it. Japan's plan to aid North Korea is appeasement to a monster that it fears, rather than concern for the development of a fruitful friendship. If Japan pays North Korea's extortion fee, the world diplomatic consensus against wanton aggression will crack. Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, already taking heat for dragging his heals in supporting the multinational blockade of Iraq, cannot afford another political embarrassment.

Japan may be concerned that an isolated, weakening North Korea, like oil-dependent Iraq, may lash out against unfriendly neighbors. South Korea, occupied by 45,000 American troops and enough nuclear weapons to pulverize North Korea, is no Kuwait. Kim, especially aware that his old communist allies would not come to his aid, would not attempt to wage war now.

The Western nations, and forward-thinking Eastern European neo-capitalists, should join in an economic boycott of North Korea, in an effort to squeeze Kim's government, and his dangerously large army, out of power.

With the fear of a trade war between Japan and the United States now lessened, Japanese-American relations may fare better in the next decade than they have at any time since the Vietnam War. Arguments over Japan's foreign policy, unfortunately, may spoil this new relationship.


Matthew H. Hersch, a freshman, is an associate opinion editor of The Tech.