My first reaction to North Korea's nuclear test was that it couldn't come at a better time -- for North Korea's opponents. As a Japanese bureaucrat purportedly said, the nuclear test was a "gift." Coming just as Abe Shinzo took office and embarked on reconciliatory visits to Beijing and Seoul, Kim Jong Il pushed irksome issues linked to history and national identity off the agenda.
In a larger sense, though, Kim may have helped accelerate the trend in Asia towards greater inter-governmental cooperation. The aftermath has seen a number of meetings to discuss the issue, including Secretary Rice's talks with the other participants in the six-party talks, incoming UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent talks in Beijing, and a host of other meetings to discuss what should be done about Kim's nuclear weapons. Now the Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Secretary Rice will host Foreign Ministers Aso Taro and Alexander Downer of Japan and Australia in early January for meetings that will discuss North Korea, but also greater security cooperation between the US, Australia, and Japan -- a conversation that is long overdue.
The more that the Asia-Pacific region's powers talk amongst themselves, the better off the region will be on the whole. Talking need not lead immediately to results; indeed, the nuclear issue is probably least likely to be resolved by talking (to North Korea, that is). But as Winston Churchill said, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." But talking will enable the powers to get a feeling for other's interests and raise the possibility of finding grounds for cooperation -- I'm thinking of China, in particular. Intense consultation between China and other powers in the region, especially the US, will go a long way to making China feel like it has a stake in regional security, and encourage Beijing to find ways to contribute. At this point in time, I don't believe that China's future is foreordained: a bellicose China or a pacific China are both possibilities. Much will depend on how its neighbors approach it. As such, the January talks must not be used to craft some kind of arrangement that could be seen as isolating China. For the moment, peace and stability must come before efforts to goad China in the direction of greater liberalization.
As far as North Korea goes, the Japan Times reports that in the US-Japan-RoK meetings earlier this month, the US and Japan insisted that the DPRK take concrete steps in the direction of giving up its nuclear weapons as a precondition for returning to the six-party talks. Sounds to me like a recipe for ensuring that the six-party talks remain in abeyance indefinitely. What country is going to give up real security -- a nuclear arsenal -- for some vague promises of security that might result from the six-party talks? Frankly, what country led by a paranoid, isolated dictator would give up its hard-earned nukes for anything? Talk will not disarm North Korea. I remain skeptical that anything but regime change will lead to a change in North Korea's membership in the nuclear club.
Meanwhile, Nakagawa Shoichi continued his one-man crusade (link in Japanese) to get Japan to talk about nuclear weapons in a speech Monday in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. He insisted that the Constitution does not prohibit Japan's possessing nuclear weapons, and wondered, "If [a missile] were launched from over there, what could we do?" He continued, "Cooperation with the US and China is important, but now we should have a debate about nuclear weapons." [my translation] As I said yesterday, Japan should have such a debate -- it should say no to nuclear weapons (for now), of course, but it should debate the question, in order to have a public airing of policy options and outline where Japan's security policy stands at present. がんばれ, Mr. Nakagawa.
Turning to American politics -- sorry, I'll try to avoid doing this too often -- Niall Ferguson ponders in The LA Times whether the Republican Party will lose next week in a historically catastrophic way. Personally, I don't see what difference it makes. Because of my recent move I could not get an absentee ballot in time, so I won't be voting this year. But even if I could, I probably wouldn't. Neither party seems to have a clue. It's little more than the same tired cliches. Most years that wouldn't stop me, but the world is in the midst of being reordered and America's elected officials can think of nothing better than to talk about one member's misconduct. So go vote, I guess, but don't be surprised when nothing changes. I suppose a democracy gets the politicians it deserves.
Turning to personal news, I practiced with the flag football team yesterday. It really feels like I've gone back a dozen years in time. Not much else going on though. Day in, day out, pretty much the same thing: rise early, breakfast at seven (natto today, mmm), meeting at eight, free until five pm. When I have something to report, I'll be sure to do so.