No. 20 — May 19, 2000


Weekly Review

--- by Barbara Wanner

The havoc caused by nongovernmental and civic groups at the November 1999 World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle and their highly visible — albeit less disruptive — protests at the mid-April confabs of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington apparently made a strong impression on foreign policy planners in Tokyo. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' diplomatic blue book for 2000, released May 9, highlights NGOs' increasingly important role in bringing a wide variety of problems to the attention of the international community. The government therefore must build "constructive partnerships" with these groups to meet emerging diplomatic challenges, the Foreign Ministry document emphasizes.

Like last year's report, MOFA's most recent foreign policy blueprint devotes many pages to the issue of North Korea's suspected development of long-range missiles and the resulting potential for instability in Northeast Asia and even beyond. However, the focus on the diplomatic implications of increasing NGO activism represents a notable break from previous blue books, which have tended to concentrate on the security threats caused by the behavior of individual countries, nuclear weapons tests by regional actors and other ramifications of the progressive breakdown of the Cold War order (see JEI Report No. 19B, May 14, 1999).

Some analysts suggest that the Foreign Ministry may return to its customary theme in the event of a flare-up of regional tensions caused by yet another North Korean provocation or by increasing frictions between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan (see JEI Report No. 16A, April 21, 2000). Indeed, the authors of the 209-page document hint of a possible reprise, pointing out that it is "highly possible" that North Korea has completed deployment of its medium-range Taepodong-1 missile, the very same missile that was lobbed over Japan in August 1998 (see JEI Report No. 34B, September 4, 1998). They also believe it "likely" that Pyongyang is working on a next-generation, longer-range version, the Taepodong-2, that conceivably could strike Alaska.

The authors of the 2000 blue book note that while food supplies are scarce and economic conditions in the closed, Stalinist country "remain grave," no signs of a grass-roots uprising that might threaten the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il are apparent. For these reasons, they conclude, Japan must maintain a "balanced policy of dialogue and deterrence" while simultaneously pursuing normalized relations with North Korea.

Concerning the latter, Japan and North Korea scored a minor breakthrough by holding talks April 5 to April 7 in Pyongyang aimed at jump-starting normalization negotiations after an eight-year freeze. However, the fact that the two sides remained adamant regarding their respective requirements does not bode well for an an easy second round of preparatory discussions. Those originally were scheduled for late May in Tokyo, but government officials announced May 17 that the meetings had been postponed "for the time being." No reason was offered, but informed sources speculated that Japan's agenda had irked North Korea.

Japanese negotiators have insisted that their North Korean counterparts address Pyongyang's alleged abduction of at least 10 Japanese from northeast Honshu in the 1970s and the 1980s. North Korean officials abruptly walked out of normalization talks in 1992 over this demand and nearly did so again at the April meetings (see JEI Report No. 17B, April 28, 2000). For its part, Pyongyang wants reparations for Japan's harsh 1910-45 rule of the Korean peninsula, a condition that Tokyo categorically has rejected on the grounds that the two nations were not at war during Japan's colonial occupation.

At the same time, though, the agreement between Seoul and Pyongyang to hold the first-ever inter-Korean summit in the North Korean capital June 12 through June 14 undeniably has improved regional atmospherics. Indicative of what has been and will continue to be a highly coordinated approach to dealing with Pyongyang, the governments of the United States, Japan and South Korea issued a joint statement May 12 praising Mr. Kim for this initiative. "The recent developments represented an unprecedented opportunity to enhance peace and stability in Northeast Asia," it read. The three allies also "expressed their confidence that the summit [between North Korea and South Korea] will advance inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, peace on the Korean peninsula and the shared interests of all countries."

Offering a preview of an issue that Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has indicated he would like the leaders of the Group of Seven industrial nations plus Russia to focus on when they convene on Okinawa July 21 to July 23 (see JEI Report No. 19B, May 12, 2000), the 2000 blue book underscores the need to tackle the "detrimental aspects of globalization." In particular, the report's authors single out the "digital divide" between industrialized and developing countries in terms of their abilities to use and benefit from the information technology boom. They also touch on "human security" problems, including infectious diseases, environmental degradation, cross-border organized crime, poverty and terrorism. Such challenges, say MOFA policymakers, require international cooperation in constructing "safety nets" to help the world's disadvantaged people.

Continuing the theme of previous blue books, the authors of this year's report portray a Japan committed to building confidence in East Asia through the provision of economic assistance, the promotion of conflict prevention and the backing of United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping operations. Japan intends "[to play] an active role in increasing stability" in the Asian Pacific region through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, the blue book's authors assert.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent those of the Japan Economic Institute

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