Most of us can recall having a fight between siblings or friends split up by the nearest adult. “He started it!” was the inevitable cry from one of us, followed by the fed-up elder – who just wanted a return to silence – declaring, “I don’t care who started it!”
Sometimes, it matters who started it. In foreign affairs, identifying the aggressor can offer negotiating clarity as well as affirmation of first principles. A few weeks ago, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Ah-bay) made curious statements about his country’s relations with Kim Jung Un and North Korea.
Japan’s prime minister vowed Monday to “break the shell of mutual distrust” with North Korea by meeting leader Kim Jong Un face-to-face and restoring diplomatic relations between the two historic foes.
In a major policy speech to mark the opening of parliament, Shinzo Abe also vowed to push Sino-Japan ties “to a new stage” and pledged a record budget to improve crumbling infrastructure in the world’s third-biggest economy.
“I will act resolutely, never failing to seize every opportunity to break the shell of mutual distrust, and I myself will directly face Chairman Kim Jong Un… to resolve North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, as well as the abductions issue,” Abe said.
Abe gave no timeframe for a potential meeting with the North Korean leader but the comments came as Kim has ordered preparation for a second summit with US President Donald Trump, likely towards the end of next month.
“I will aim at diplomatic normalisation by settling the unfortunate past,” Abe said, using a Japanese diplomatic euphemism referring to harm caused by Japan during its brutal colonisation of the Korean peninsula before and during World War II.
The conciliatory message contrasted sharply from a year ago, when Abe used the same parliamentary address to set out a hardline approach, pledging to “compel North Korea to change its policies” and describing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes as an “unprecedentedly grave and urgent threat”.
Abe has long sought to resolve an emotional row related to North Korean agents’ abduction of Japanese nationals during the Cold War era to train Pyongyang’s spies.
Pyongyang released what it said were the five survivors in 2002, and said eight others it admitted kidnapping had all died.
History can sit you down and regale you with stories of the brutality perpetrated by the Japanese against her enemies; they are not boy scouts or choir boys. But we need to be clear on what the chubby Nork dictator is and is not. Many consider his country to be the world’s largest concentration camp. Starvation, rapes, and beatings are the norm. If you manage to escape, your family is imprisoned or killed. If you’re a public official, if you’re the first to stop clapping for Dear Leader, you’ll be punished
(leading to multiple incidences of bloody hands). So it’s disappointing that countries like Japan and the US give credence to this modern-day butcher – as well as admit committing transgressions against him or his two predecessors. President Trump went so far as saying he and Kim have “a great relationship.”
A nuclear-free North Korea that respects her people requires judicious foreign policy. This means anyone in direct or indirect contact with NK officials can’t shoot their mouths off without compromising progress. But that doesn’t mean we concede equal responsibility for their behavior. We know who has the upper hand in these negotiations (Democrats: I mean the USA). How about a middle ground of stating current conditions as they are, and clearly offering a path forward? Letting Kim believe we’re somewhat at fault is weakness.
If we go back far enough, we’ll find fault in any nation, but we do know who started the current mess. Let’s not bow to tyranny just yet.