SHANGHAI, China — My perspective for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to North Korea is that of the Chinese. I have been in Shanghai since just before his visit. The reports I have been reading and listening to are those of the Chinese media and my Chinese friends and colleagues.
In reply to my question as to why China had not used its connections with Pyongyang to support its reform and opening-up process, getting in ahead of Koizumi, one professor of international relations told me the Chinese government wants to maintain the status quo. Beijing is sending refugees back over the border because it is worried, he said, that if it doesn’t there will be a flood of people entering China, which will lead to a collapse of the North Korean state and foster political instability in the region.
And the North Koreans do not want Chinese support for its present moves away from Stalinism. They regard the Chinese as political renegades who have betrayed the cause of pure socialism. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was reportedly horrified by what he saw during his visit to Shanghai and Shenzhen last year. This is why the new special administrative region that North Korea is setting up, modeled on Hong Kong, will have a high wall to contain its political impact.
While the fact he went at all is important, in terms of concrete achievements Koizumi’s visit was not a great success. An extended moratorium on missile testing and the admission by Kim that some of his forces had abducted a handful of Japanese is about all he achieved. The missile moratorium would probably have happened anyway, and the Japanese leader was unable to get any movement on the question of the targeting of Japan by existing missiles.
South Korean President Kim Dae Jung had more substantive success, getting the frontier between the two Koreas reopened and what seem, finally, like serious commitments to work toward building roads and railways that will connect North Korea with the outside world. It seems that the Eurasian Railway, which will run from South Korea to Western Europe via North Korea and Russia, might be built at last. The topic got a serious airing at the Asia-Europe Meeting recently held in Copenhagen, thanks to President Kim.
For his meager achievements, Koizumi has committed Japan to providing probably billions of dollars in aid. This will shore up the regime in Pyongyang or a few more years without necessarily resulting in significant reforms, which pleases the Chinese.
What upset the Chinese about the aid being offered by Japan was that the Japanese prime minister appears to have said that this was not compensation for war crimes as Japan had never been at war with Korea. It just occupied and colonized it. I am sure that the hundreds of thousands of victims of Japanese atrocities over a period of 40 years will be comforted to know that they are not the victims of war crimes. They only had their civil rights infringed.
If Koizumi really did say this, then it was a particularly inept piece of diplomacy, and helps explain Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s refusal to give him the invitation to China that he was fishing for in order to “brief” the Chinese leader on his visit to Pyongyang.
Jiang even refused to accept a telephone call from Koizumi in advance of the visit. In international diplomacy you cannot get much more insulting than that. Koizumi has still no clue as to how offended the Chinese people remain over his visit to Yasukuni Shrine.
But what upset the Chinese most about Koizumi’s visit was the emotional outbursts, shown on Chinese television and reported in the newspapers, of many Japanese people to Kim Jong Il’s admission that the abductions of a handful of Japanese citizens had indeed take place, and that eight of the victims were dead.
While the abduction of even one person is a terrible crime, the Japanese protesters seems oblivious to how these outbursts seem to people who remember that in Japan today there are thousands of North Koreans who were abducted by the Japanese, and who are still treated as second-class citizens. They seem also to forget the hundreds of thousands of women who were abducted to become comfort women and the hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Koreans who were abducted to work as slaves in Japan.
In case after case the Japanese courts throw out claims for compensation from the people they abducted and committed atrocities against. There are still thousands of these people alive, ignored by those Japanese people who are now clamoring for compensation for a small group who were abducted but do not seem to have been the victims of atrocities. The firsthand experiences of the victims of the Japanese will live on for decades in the minds of their children and grandchildren
Professor Ding Dou of Beijing University summed up the Chinese perspective on this issue last weekend. In a Sept. 28 article in the China Daily he wrote, “a country lacking the courage to confess its historic atrocities will also be devoid of cordial cooperation with others.” Only by “viewing history as a mirror can Japan gain the trust of its neighbors.
Every year on Sept. 18, the anniversary of the invasion of China by Japanese troops in 1931, the northern Chinese city of Shenyang closes down for three minutes and a wartime siren sounds. Shenyang is the location of the notorious Unit 731, in which the Japanese government sponsored some of the worst atrocities against the Chinese people in the 20th century. Memories are long in China.
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