[OUTLOOK]North leader seems blind to facts

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[OUTLOOK]North leader seems blind to facts

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, has been sending out strong signals to the world lately.

Last month, he invited the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, to Pyeongyang where he apologized humbly for the kidnapping of a dozen or so Japanese citizens and agreed to restart negotiations on establishing diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan. Mr. Kim's meeting with Mr. Koizumi has brought mixed reactions concerning the balance of power in Northeast Asia.

With all attention focused on Pyeongyang's and Tokyo's endeavors on rapprochement, Mr. Kim announced the big news that he was to designate the North Korean city of Sinuiju as a special economic district and make it an even more capitalistic economy than Hong Kong.

Last week, North Korea received a high-ranking U.S. envoy for the first time since the inauguration of the administration of President George W. Bush, signaling the long-awaited resumption of North Korea-U.S. talks.

All of these are bold and dramatic actions. One can fairly well guess what Mr. Kim's style is. Like a good dictator, he moves boldly when necessary to get what he needs from the outside world. Depending on his intent, his actions may even seem quite rational.

Mr. Kim's foremost objective is to continue his regime and his second is to obtain the economic means necessary to do so. In order to gain economic help, he offered an apology for the abduction of Japanese citizens.

The special district of Sinuiju is being created because the North needs money urgently. The reopening of talks with the United States was initiated in pursuit of a guarantee for the continuation of the regime and economic cooperation.

The problem, however, is that the three initiatives by Mr. Kim have all run up against obstacles hard to overcome. Mr. Kim's apology for the abductions has stirred up a hornet's nest instead of easing outrage in Japan. Progress on the Sinuiju plan looks uncertain, with Chinese authorities having detained on allegations of tax evasion Yang Bin, a Chinese-born Dutch businessman who was appointed to oversee Sinuiju.

Also, negotiations with the United States are not proceeding at the speed the North Koreans had expected, making it unlikely a definite point of agreement will be reached in the near future. Moreover, it looks like a considerably long period of time will have to pass before the United States scratches North Korea's name off its list of rogue states and allow international financial agencies to give aid to the impoverished Stalinist country.

James Kelly, the U.S. assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific affairs, who visited North Korea last Thursday as special envoy, said that the United States is concerned over North Korea's alleged programs to produce weapons of mass destruction, its development and export of missiles, its positioning of conventional weapons and human rights violations. Mr. Kelly warned that the actions North Korea takes could either improve relations between Pyeongyang and Washington or negatively affect the security of the region and the world.

Fortunately, Mr. Kim has not rushed toward the brink nor beat the drums of group hysteria this time as he has often done. Yet Mr. Kelly's words have placed a heavy burden on North Korea's shoulders. Mr. Kelly's announcement indicates that Mr. Kim must make fundamental changes in North Korea's practices and behavior on issues ranging from nuclear weapons to humanitarian concerns if he truly wants to improve relations with Washington.

There seems to be a common thread in the North Korean leader's style in solving the different problems of relations with Japan, Sinuiju and negotiations with the United States. On the surface his moves seem bold and aspiring, but the actual content of his actions do not address the core of the problems, in other words, he evades reality. Mr. Kim does not seem to have thought seriously about whether the Japanese people will accept the explanation of the kidnappings. It also is doubtful whether Mr. Kim fully understands the significance of China in the issue of Sinuiju. Mr. Kim is also mistaken if he thinks he can get away with ignoring the non-proliferation regime championed by Washington as negotiations with the United States move forward.

Mr. Kim will soon have to learn to look reality in the eye and make difficult decisions if he is to wade through the waves of the problems that are sure to come.

He must be aware of the unavoidable truth that no matter how dramatic a style he pursues, it will ultimately lead to tragedy if he pushes fundamental problems to the side.


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The writer is the president of the Social Science Institute.

by Kim Kyung-won

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