Knocked back in Beijing

Tokyo tries to keep a brave face on the agreements reached at last week's six-nation talks in Beijing aimed at putting an end to North Korea's nuclear development plans. But no amount of strong talk about refusing any direct participation in aid or other concessions to North Korea unless Pyongyang accepts Tokyo's demands on the "abductee issue" can disguise the fact that Japan is in breach of an important international agreement even before the ink has dried on it.
Nor can it disguise the extent of the embarrassing knockback it has suffered at the hands of its ally, the United States.
Tokyo had tried to insist that the U.S. and the other four parties to the talks should not make any concessions until Pyongyang had dropped its hardline refusal to discuss the abductee issue. For months it has been telling us about how the U.S. and South Korea agreed with this linkage. But it is now clear that the U.S. and the others have ignored Tokyo's linkage demands.
Japan has been told in effect to go and sort out its problems by itself, by talking directly with Pyongyang in a working group. Since Pyongyang denies that there is an abductee problem, and since Tokyo so far has been refusing direct talks with North Korea, prospects for a breakthrough are slim.
Prime Minister Abe has been reduced to issuing strongly worded instructions to negotiators to force North Korean concessions. As for the U.S. "betrayal" over the abductee linkage, he and most of the abductee-obsessed media here remain tight-lipped.
Two factors were involved in this Tokyo miscalculation. One was not realizing how easily U.S. policy toward Pyongyang could shift. Washington's hardliners had earlier used North Korea's rocket and nuclear developments as grounds to refuse any concessions.
But since it was fairly clear that the developments were the result of the U.S. refusal to drop its hostility to North Korea -- in particular, the U.S. volte-face on the promises for normalized relations that it had made in the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea and the subsequent refusal of the direct one-on-one talks sought by Pyongyang -- then it was highly likely that the illogicality of the previous policy would spur a Washington retreat.
Chastened by its Iraq setbacks, by the recent Congressional election defeats and by the three-year deadlock its hardline had imposed on the six-party talks, the U.S. inevitably began to want to make the concessions needed to extract North Korean concessions, regardless of the Tokyo linkage demands. When that happened, Tokyo was left high, dry and isolated at the Beijing talks.
The other factor was Tokyo's weak position on the abduction issue. The issue was supposed to have been resolved by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, as a result of his successful 2002 efforts to persuade Pyongyang to release five abductees, with an apology, in exchange for a promise to normalize relations. But he was immediately finessed by Abe, then chief Cabinet secretary, who insisted there were more abductees and that they too had to be released before there could be any normalization of relations. But the evidence that there were more abductees seeking release is scattered.
In any case, normally one would have assumed that if there was a residual abductee problem, it could best be resolved by negotiations through Tokyo sticking to Koizumi's promise to normalize relations. But Abe, with strong rightwing backing, has insisted that the promise should be broken and that sanctions be imposed to force a Pyongyang guilty of "bad faith" to comply.
Even that unusual move could just possibly be seen as justified, given the intense public feeling in Japan on the abductee issue. But given the very flimsy evidence on which Tokyo based its claim of Pyongyang's bad faith over the issue -- in particular, the strange way Tokyo has insisted that its DNA analysis of the remains of an abductee that Pyongyang says died in 1994 (an analysis that most scientific opinion says is impossible) proves that Pyongyang is lying, the rest of the world can be excused for not quite sharing Tokyo's seeming fervor on the issue.
Tokyo's use of this rather contrived abductee issue to prevent the concessions that everyone else is seeking to ease the alleged North Korean rocket and nuclear threat from which Japan itself had claimed to be the main victim also made it inevitable that Tokyo's demands would be ignored. Tokyo may have been scoring points domestically, but international opinion was bound to be unimpressed.
None of this seems to have registered with the Tokyo planners at the time. They seemed to think that it was enough to say they had an abductee problem to get the rest of the world to jump to attention.
Several "Japanese" factors seem involved: One is the weakness in realizing how foreigners think. Another is the priority given to domestic opinion in foreign policy matters. Yet another is the consensus ethic -- the belief that if you get others to agree with you, then the seeming sincerity of your demands and the fact that you have the numbers will prove you are in the right even when your case is weak.
But in international affairs, nations only cooperate when it is in their national interest to do so. The moment that interest points in another direction, promises of cooperation quickly die, particularly when the reasons for providing that original cooperation are weak.
Japan's policies in the Northern Territory dispute with Moscow have been very similar. Despite having a rather weak claim -- there too it reneged on an earlier 1955 agreement, this time for a return of territory, and began to demand more territory -- Tokyo for decades seemed to think that if it insisted on a claim and could persuade others to support that claim, then that would somehow prove that the claim was valid.
During the Cold War, the Western powers were happy to oblige, to keep Japan on their side and at loggerheads with Moscow. But the moment the Cold War ended the support fizzled out. More than half a century has passed since the original dispute was aired and Japan is no closer to a resolution today than it was then.
It would be fine if these and other foreign policy defeats -- the recent failure to gain a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council in particular -- would persuade Tokyo to think more deeply and less emotionally about its foreign policy strategies and tactics. But for the moment that seems unlikely.

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 とくに1994年北朝鮮との枠組み合意において決まった関係正常化の約束に対する急転換と、その結果、北朝鮮が求めていた二国間直接交渉の拒否 を変えないことの結果だとかなりはっきりしたために、米政府が従来の政策の不合理さを見直す可能性に拍車がかかった。
悪行の証拠と主張する断片的な非常に不確かな証拠 とくに北朝鮮が1994年に死亡したという被拉致者の遺骨のDNA鑑定(大半の科学者の意見によると不可能とされる鑑定)が、北朝鮮の嘘を証明しているという不可解な議論 を見れば、世界の他の国々が日本政府のこの問題に対する熱意に共感しないとしても不思議はない。
日本的要因が関係しているようだ: 一つは、外国の目にどう映るかの判断の弱さ。また、外交問題で、国内世論を第一に重視するやり方だ。更にまた、コンセンサスの風土 他人を自分の考えに賛同させることができたとすれば、すなわち、自分の要求の外見上のひたむきさとあなたが数の上で勝っているという事実でもって、(実際には自分の根拠が弱い場合でも)自分が正しいということを証明できる、という確信 である。
 ここでもまた日本は1955年に遡る協定を否定して、(この場合は領土の返還についてだが)、日本政府は更に多くの領土を要求し始めた 日本政府は、要求を唱え続ければ他の国の理解を取り付けることができ、その結果その要求が正しいものになると、何十年も思い続けてきたようだ。
 とくに最近では国連安保理加盟の試みの失敗 が日本政府にもっと深く、より冷静に、外交政策戦略と戦術を考えることを余儀なくさせるのであれば、それもよかろう。とはいえ、当面はそれは無理なようだ。