North Korea prefers Bush?

Japan's distress over the rapid progress in U.S.-North Korean talks for normalization of relations is palpable. The government as well as the mainstream media seem united in hopes that Washington will delay normalization until North Korea meets Japan's demands over the abductee issue -- the return of a claimed 12 abducted Japanese additional to the five returned in 2002, and said to be still alive in North Korea.
Few seem to want to realize one reason why the United States is now so seemingly willing to ease its formerly hostile attitude to North Korea: that Washington is finally discovering that Pyongyang is still quite willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions once the U.S. begins to stick to its long-forgotten 1994 promises to normalize relations and assist North Korea's energy requirements.
Even less is there any realization of an even more important factor possibly at work -- namely, the strong hints now surfacing that Pyongyang is eager to embrace Washington as a way to distance itself from Beijing and possibly even from Seoul.
Any move along these lines would mean a complete revamping of the political and security situation in Northeast Asia. Tokyo might want to ignore this possibility because of the damage it would do to its own plans for alliances and armaments to meet the perceived North Korean threat. But why does the rest of Japan remain so impervious to something that is already the subject of open speculation in the U.S. media?
Hints that Pyongyang is anxious to free itself from the Chinese embrace have been around for quite some time. Perhaps the strongest was the extraordinary reception given to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on her pathbreaking visit to Pyongyang in October 2000. A senior Chinese delegation was also in town at the time. One reliable source has said the Chinese were furious over the lack of attention they received as a result.
Also hurtful is North Korea's reluctance to show gratitude for the economic aid it receives from China, and in particular for the crucial way Chinese troops helped to force back U.S. forces moving deep into North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. According to one frequent visitor to North Korea -- Italian journalist and documentary producer, Pio d'Emilia -- war museums in North Korea pay little attention to the Chinese role.
In seeming retaliation, he says, the Chinese have recently placed in a war museum at Dandong near the the North Korean frontier a copy of a 1950 handwritten letter from then North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, begging the Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, to send troops urgently.
In the six-party talks leading to the current talks on normalization, nuclear and other questions Beijing has been surprisingly neutral toward its communist neighbor, voting even for U.N. sanctions after North Korea's recent nuclear test explosion. The assumption that the two communist neighbors should automatically support each other seems dead.
The Korean people have a tradition of seeking to ally with a strong power to protect themselves from other and rival powers. Many, including Albright, former Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi and even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have spoken about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's rationality and quickness of thinking. There are many reports of his liking for Western culture. The idea that he could suddenly volte-face and seek to be accepted on the world stage as a friend of the U.S. is far from impossible. Certainly he shows little liking for China and its culture.
The North Korean regime is also very sensitive to "face." By opening to the U.S., Kim also bypasses the humiliating admission of inferiority to his southern neighbor. Face also seems to underlie Pyongyang's seeming lack of gratitude for the generous economic and other aid it receives from South Korea and others.
Many, in Japan especially, have assumed that the reclusiveness and backwardness of the North Korean regime, would rule out any opening to the West. But in 1972 the equally backward and reclusive Chinese regime of Mao Zedong opened its arms to U.S. President Richard Nixon. One of the advantages of being a communist dictator is that you can change course rapidly, and in whatever direction you want.
That Japan still seems unable or unwilling to grasp these possibilities is a measure of many things. One is its chronic weakness in diplomatic strategy and tactics. Another is the anti-North Korea emotion whipped up here over the abductee issue. Even Pyongyang's insistence that at least one of the claimed 12 abductees -- Megumi Yokota -- is dead, and that this can be easily proved if Tokyo cooperates, is being ignored.
Kim can suddenly push his rigid society in a pro-U.S. direction if he chooses to do so. If that happens, and as with the sudden U.S. move to China in 1972, once again Tokyo will be left trailing in the dust, complaining bitterly.

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 米朝会談が両国関係正常化の方向へ急進展していることで、日本が困惑しているのは明らかだ。日本の政府、主要メディアも一致して、北朝鮮が日本の拉致問題要求─ 2002年に帰国した5人に加え、まだ北朝鮮に残り、生存していると日本が主張している12人の被拉致者の帰国─ を呑むまでは米政府が関係正常化を引き伸ばすだろうと、望みをかけているようだ。
1994年の約束─ 関係を改善し、北朝鮮のエネルギー不足を援助するという約束─ を守る方向へ進むならば、北朝鮮政府は今でも喜んで核開発の野心を捨てる用意があることに、米政府はようやく気づいたということだ。
 またさらに重要な要因が働いているかもしれないと認識する人はさらに少ない。─ つまり、北朝鮮政府が、中国とまたもしかして韓国とも、距離をとりたいための方策として米政府に接近したいと考えていると思われる強い兆候が浮かび上がっている。
 この二つの共産主義的隣国が自動的に支えあうはずという前提は消えたようだ。 朝鮮人民には、強い国と同盟して、他の敵やもうひとつのライバル勢力から自分を守ろうとする伝統がある。多くの人が、オルブライト、小泉前首相、さらには安倍晋三首相でさえ、北朝鮮の指導者金正日は合理性があり、頭の回転が速いという印象を語っている。彼が西側の文化を好むという報告は多い。彼が突然回れ右して、世界の舞台でアメリカの友人として受け入れてもらおうとすることも、決してありえないことではない。確かに彼が中国や中国文化をあまり好きであることは示していない。