U.S. diplomat William Perry has a policy of “cautious realism” regarding North Korea, and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung is identified with his positive “sunshine policy” vis-a-vis Pyongyang. It would be generous and accurate to characterize Japan’s policy toward the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Il as “darkness at noon.”

While North Korea’s Ri Myun Hoon, the tallest baskeball player (235 cm) ever seen, was taking part in friendly “reunification” matches in Seoul last weekend, U.S. diplomats were looking for ways to invite North Korean counterparts to Washington D.C.

At about the same time, Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono was saying that proceeding with food aid to North Korea — where at least 220,000 have starved since the mid-1990s — was premature. Thus Tokyo put on hold an agreement between the two nations’ Red Cross societies that had been signed five days earlier.

“It is necessary for us to comprehensively analyze North Korean reaction to the humanitarian issues Japan has presented, including the abduction of Japanese,” Kono told a news conference after a Cabinet meeting.

Another meeting between the two governments on setting a framework for normalization talks was held at the same time as the Red Cross meetings.

Japanese delegates at the Red Cross meeting agreed to urge the government to resume food aid to North Korea “as quickly as possible from a humanitarian viewpoint.”

The North Korean side promised to request a “full-scale search” for missing Japanese whom Tokyo believes were abducted by Pyongyang. In Japan’s “food diplomacy policy” handbook, the issue pivots on whether the Japanese in question were “abducted” or “missing.”

The question that must be asked is why has Japan been so persistently tough over the last 50 years toward North Korea? Among all the nations in the world, why is North Korea singled out for this abrasive treatment?

Some say the answers are wrapped up in emotional fallout from Tokyo’s colonial control of Korea, frictions within the Korean minority in Japan, a Liberal Democratic Party mind-set that includes going a step beyond U.S. policy and a desire to show up lingering socialist political sentiments in Japanese society.

Everyone knows that North Korea deserves extra scrutiny. But it is beginning to look as though some LDP elements are exerting a proprietary influence on Korean matters. Over the horizon, we can see the same stirrings of some Japanese politicians toward the future of Taiwan, another former colony. Some say it is a good thing; at least they are showing some interest in foreign affairs.

I’m the last person to be accused of lobbying for North Korea, but give me a break: Japan has diplomatic relations with 189 nations in the world. North Korea has been excluded from the list for 50 years, and only now are serious talks toward normalization taking place.

The Perry report is the work of a superior intellect. He has raised the “carrot and stick” strategy to a new level of respectability. The sunshine policy, given its origins, is remarkably optimistic. Both approaches are more imaginative and sophisticated than Japan’s crude “food diplomacy.”

It is evident that much of the political foot-dragging on the Korean issue comes from Tokyo, as well as from Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang.

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