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Column oversimplified, misunderstood North Korean issues

Matthew H. Hersch '94's recent column ["Japan buys time in Korea," Oct. 19] is an interesting piece about an issue of great interest to the world today: the survival of Marxist-Leninist governments in Asia. Hersch asserts that Japan is poised to foster close economic relations with North Korea at a time when it should be striving to undermine it.

Unfortunately, most of the arguments in this article are questionable. Hersch writes that North Korea is isolated and is ready to be squashed into oblivion.

The People's Republic of China is a close friend of North Korea. The Chinese leadership

is concerned about the ramifications of the collapse of pro-Soviet governments in Eastern Europe and the process of democratization in the Soviet Union.

It is not surprising, then, that China is trying to cement close ties with North Korea and overcome enmities with Vietnam.

Hersch states that a meeting between Japanese and North Korean leaders resulted in a "pseudo-treaty" which promised financial compensation for Japan's domination of the Korean peninsula "during World War II."

The joint declaration that was issued by the Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Socialist Party, and the Korean Workers' Party stipulated that the Japanese government should apologize to North Korea for the brutal occupation of the Korean Peninsula by Japanese militarist authorities from 1910 to 1945, and that there should be agreement on compensation in the course of negotiations to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Japanese compensation to countries which were subjected to its rampant aggression is not only reasonable, but absolutely necessary, regardless of the type of government in power.

When Japan established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1965, it paid large reparations to the government of Park Chunghee, who had seized power in 1961. The South Korean government was not democratic, but Japanese assistance and competition with Japanese industries have contributed to the rapid

growth of the South Korean economy in the past two decades.

South Korea has been undergoing a process of democratization which might not have been realized had the economy not been as successful.

Japan recognized the People's Republic of China in 1972 and paid compensation to the Chinese government. Maoist China in 1972 was far from being democratic, but these steps have helped to cement close economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries, thereby contributing to security in Asia.

Hersch writes that North Korea waged a war against a member of the United Nations. This is not true. North Korea has waged war against South Korea, which has never been a member of the United Nations.

South Korea would like the North and South to simultaneously join the United Nations as two separate states, and would like cross recognition (i.e., recognition of South Korea by the Soviet Union and China, and the recognition of North Korea by Japan and the United States).

Japan's currently non-existent plan to aid North Korea is not an appeasement to a monster that it fears. Japan does not fear North Korea. If it did, it would have sought diplomatic relations with North Korea earlier; it has now been 45 years since the end of World War II.

Why have Japanese legislators decided to offer aid to North Korea instead of attempting to displace Kim Il Sung? There are two answers to this question, and both are equally valid.

First, the legislators would derive great benefits from this scheme. The mere promise of negotiating has already secured the release of Japanese prisoners.

North Korea is the only country in the world (excluding Taiwan) with which Japan does not maintain diplomatic relations. This means that North Korea is the only country in the world to which Japan cannot give foreign economic aid.

In general, economic aid is a tremendous windfall to the big businesses in the donor country. Big businesses benefit in the form of preferred contracts for large projects funded by the aid program. North Korea is especially attractive because Japan occupied it for a long time, during which the Korean people were oppressed.

This calls for a large compensation, which means a larger windfall for Japan's big businesses, and the LDP politicians who enjoy a cozy relationship with them.

The second, equally important answer, is that an onslaught of officially sanctioned Japanese money will probably materialize several years from now, around the time of the death of Kim Il Sung, who is approaching 80.

Kim Il Sung has been able to perpetuate the personality cult only by monopolizing all sources of information and convincing the masses that they live in paradise.

The introduction of Japanese money and industry will greatly undermine this farce at a time when the North Korean leadership is attempting to complete the difficult transition to the weak and erratic Kim Jongil.

In short, North Korea's plan to seek diplomatic relations with Japan indicates that Kim Il Sung has finally decided to take his largest risk since the Korean War; he is trying to open up his country to salvage the economy, while hoping that economic cooperation will not seriously undermine his regime. Meanwhile, it appears that Japanese politicians have little to lose by playing along.

Fumitomo Hide '91->