Confluence of issues

It seems that in the aftermath of “The Facts” advert in the Washington Post, the House Foreign Affairs committee is prepared to move forward (Hat tip: Japan Probe) with the Honda resolution on the comfort women issue — and that there is something to the news emanating from Korean sources that Vice President Cheney in particular was unhappy with it.

At the same time, North Korea, having received its frozen funds, is reportedly ready to move forward on freezing the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and welcome IAEA inspectors — moves that Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill reportedly greeted with some enthusiasm.

And so here we are: at the same time that North Korea has signaled its readiness to move forward with the agreement, tension over the lingering Honda resolution — and Japan’s clumsy reaction to it — is rising. This is the kind of confluence of events for which Pyongyang has no doubt been waiting. The time is approaching when the US will have to choose between sticking with Japan on the abductions issue and dealing with North Korea in pursuit of an elusive nuclear agreement (which will most likely be unable to achieve anything more than a nuclear freeze, and even that will not come cheap). With Japan lacking guardians within the Bush administration — and now having angered the one significant figure (Cheney) who could possibly resist Hill on Japan’s behalf — the coming weeks will be essential.

It seems to me that we’re seeing the product of a series of Japanese diplomatic mistakes: holding back from wielding its influence due to excessive emphasis on the abductions issue; failing to anticipate the extent to which the US is hungry for a “victory” in the six-party talks, no matter how illusory; and arrogantly thinking that Washington would be indifferent to statements intended to relativize or otherwise revise the historical record on comfort women.

As a result the Honda Resolution has gone from being on life support — on hold until after the Upper House elections or buried for good — to being rushed through the Foreign Affairs committee and put to the whole House before the end of June, just as the US looks ready to move forward, alongside China, Russia, and South Korea, in reaching an agreement with North Korea.

If Tokyo thought Chris Hill’s agreement in Berlin was shocking, it ain’t seen nothing yet. And this time there may fewer voices in Washington reminding the administration to be mindful of Japan’s interests. Instead, we may find more people echoing the sentiments of that Washington Post editorial from March: why should we worry about your abductees when you refuse to acknowledge the victims of the Imperial Army’s abductions.

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