No. 33 — August 25, 2000


Weekly Review

--- by Barbara Wanner

August typically is a peak vacation time in the United States and Japan. For the administration of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, however, there was no break. The Japanese leader had a packed diplomatic schedule that included an August 18 meeting in Tokyo with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a week-long, four-nation tour of South Asia. That trip began the next day in Bangladesh and wrapped up August 25 in Nepal after stops in Pakistan and India. In the meantime, senior government officials sat down with their North Korean counterparts in Tokyo from August 22 to August 24 to continue negotiations begun in April aimed at normalizing relations between their two countries.

Mr. Arafat's stopover in Tokyo appeared pro forma. His meeting with Mr. Mori was part of a world tour undertaken to explain the Palestinian stance on the stalled peace talks with Israel. The prime minister simply reiterated Japan's official position, which respects the right of self-determination for Palestinians. Mr. Mori also conveyed Tokyo's readiness to recognize Palestine's statehood if Mr. Arafat can reach a peace agreement with Israel — a not-insignificant proviso in view of the breakdown in late July of the U.S.-mediated Middle East peace talks at Camp David near Thurmont, Maryland.

Mr. Mori's swing through Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Nepal — the first such tour by a Japanese leader since then-Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu visited the region in 1990 — produced mixed results. The trip undeniably demonstrated Tokyo's interest in expanding ties with South Asia. Moreover, virtually all of the relevant heads of government responded favorably to Mr. Mori's offers of humanitarian assistance as well as business, educational and cultural exchanges. However, Pakistan's military ruler and India's prime minister remained at odds with their guest concerning Tokyo's linkage of economic assistance to their signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an international accord that proscribes nuclear testing. Japan imposed economic sanctions against India and Pakistan in response to their tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests in the spring of 1998 (see JEI Report No. 20B, May 22, 1998, and No. 21B, June 5, 1998).

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheik Hasina ensured that the tour at least began on a positive note. The leader of one of the world's most impoverished countries expressed gratitude to Japan, Bangladesh's largest aid donor, for the ¥16 billion ($145.5 million at ¥110=$1.00) in untied soft loans that Tokyo recently pledged to help build bridges, develop rural infrastructure and deliver electricity to villages. Ms. Hasina and Mr. Mori exchanged diplomatic notes on the aid package August 19. Ms. Hasina also welcomed Mr. Mori's plan to establish a Japan-South Asia exchange program to bring scholars and artists to Japan.

In Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf was similarly appreciative of Mr. Mori's promise to extend ¥900 million ($8.2 million) in humanitarian aid, with ¥500 million ($4.5 million) earmarked for repairing damage caused by drought and the other ¥400 million ($3.6 million) going toward a nationwide tetanus vaccination program for children. Mr. Mori responded favorably to his host's request for help in rescheduling debt repayments of some $5 billion to Japan. Mr. Musharraf asserted that Pakistan would default on its December 31 commitments if debt relief were not arranged.

At the same time, the Pakistani leader sought to assure the prime minister that his country would act responsibly on matters related to nuclear proliferation. Pakistan will freeze further nuclear tests as long as India does the same, Mr. Musharraf reportedly promised. But during more than two hours of discussions, the military ruler refused to provide further commitments regarding nuclear proliferation, including signing the CTBT, saying that such actions would lead to "domestic instability." Mr. Mori, in turn, made it clear that without progress on this issue, Japan's freeze on fresh grants and yen-denominated loans to both Pakistan and India would remain in place.

Perhaps because India has blossomed economically in recent years due to the success of its deregulation policy and the related boom in its information technology sector, Indian officials were bolder in their rejection of Japan's pressure on nuclear nonproliferation. Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh asserted at an August 21 press briefing that "India has coped with [economic] sanctions pretty well. We have stood up to sanctions and established a point that sanctions are counterproductive. A country like India cannot be intimidated by sanctions." Sounding much like Mr. Musharraf, Mr. Mansingh said that once a "national consensus" is reached, his country would sign on to the CTBT.

In nearly the next breath, though, India's top diplomat expressed the hope that Mr. Mori's visit would lead to broader political, cultural and economic ties between Japan and India. Officials in New Delhi are particularly interested in attracting additional Japanese investment in the nation's fledgling IT sector. In fact, Bangalore, a city in southern India that is referred to as that country's Silicon Valley, was the first stop in Mr. Mori's visit. He toured two prominent software companies soon after arriving August 21. The following day, Mr. Mori held talks with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on such related matters as the extension of visas granted to Indian technicians to work in Japan. But as Mr. Mansingh's remarks previewed, the two leaders did not come to a meeting of the minds on the CTBT issue.

Back in Tokyo, the Japanese and North Korean officials involved in the high-level normalization negotiations basically were spinning their wheels. The media had hyped the discussions as reflecting an unprecedented openness on the part of heretofore insular, Stalinist North Korea, particularly since the meetings occurred only days after the government of Kim Jong Il had allowed dozens of its citizens to reunite briefly with relatives from South Korea for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War. But the North Korean delegation, led by Ambassador Jong Thae Hwa, appeared to be just as inflexible as in April (see JEI Report No. 17B, April 28, 2000).

En route to Tokyo, Mr. Jong told reporters traveling with him that "in order to maintain harmony in the talks, the Japanese must change, not us. Our position that we must first liquidate the past remains intact." The latter remark refers to Pyongyang's insistence on reparations for Japan's harsh 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. During the April talks, Mr. Jong demanded a package that included an official written apology, reparations for "damaged cultural heritage" and legal measures that would enable Koreans living in Japan as permanent residents to sue the government for colonial-era losses.

Ambassador Kojiro Takano, who was appointed earlier this year to head the Japanese delegation involved in the normalization talks, rejected this demand four months ago and reiterated Tokyo's opposition during the August 22 opening session. He argued that Tokyo has no obligation to provide compensation because the two nations were not at war during Japan's colonial occupation.

For their part, Japanese diplomats are equally adamant that the normalization talks cannot proceed until Pyongyang addresses the alleged abduction in the 1970s and 1980s of at least 10 Japanese nationals by North Korean agents. Although North Korea indicated in December 1999 that it would investigate what it calls the "missing persons," government officials in Tokyo evidently do not believe that any action has been taken. Mr. Jong's angry criticism of Japan's insistence on raising the abduction issue within the context of the normalization negotiations seems to have confirmed Tokyo's worst fears.

In an effort to foster some semblance of progress, Mr. Takano was expected to accept Mr. Jong's proposal to establish two expert-level panels. One would discuss Korean cultural assets seized and destroyed by Japan during the pre-1945 period, while the other would consider improvements to the legal status of North Korean residents in Japan.

During their time in Japan, the North Korean delegates paid a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Yohei Kono. They also were to visit former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. The ex-chief of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Japan, who retired recently from politics, had worked hard as party leader to thaw relations between Japan and North Korea, serving as an informal diplomatic conduit between the two capitals. Japanese negotiators no doubt hope that Mr. Murayama still can soften up his "old friends."

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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