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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Trying to keep my dinner down

Scanning the headlines on the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ website this morning, my eyes were drawn to one of the commentary headings in the "Opinion-Editorial" section - North Korea's Khrushchev (link). Curious as to how such a comparison could be made, I clicked on the link to the article and found that it was written by none other than Gregory Clark, former Australian diplomat and longtime contributor to the newspaper. If you're not familiar with the man or his writings, do a Google search of "Gregory Clark Japan Times". If you have any sense of moral decency, you may find the results to be more than a little disturbing. Clark is an unapologetic apologist (pun intended) for authoritarianism and social discrimination. This is a man who has penned numerous articles attempting to defend or excuse the actions of the Chinese leadership, while never forgetting to pat himself on the back for having played a role in opening up of Australian-Chinese relations in the late 1960's/early 1970's. He has long earned the scorn of many in Japan's resident foreigner community over his attempts at justifying or whitewashing the often blatant forms of discrimination faced by many non-Japanese in the country. Don't confuse Clark for being on the same side with the Japanese right wing, however - when it comes to Japan's relationships with its neighbors, especially China, Gregory always manages to find a way to lay all the blame for the various regional disputes entirely on his host country (Clark has lived in Japan for a number of years, working as a journalist and university president). He no doubt fancies himself as a sort of provocateur, but his ideas generally come across as offensive to anyone who believes there should be a place for morality in international relations, while his articles are filled with half-truths and, in some case, outright fabrications.

This morning's exercise in revisionism concerns Kim Jong-il and North Korea. The opening paragraphs set the tone for the obnoxiousness that follows:

"The commentaries after Kim's death tell us repeatedly that the deceased North Korean leader was reclusive, erratic, enigmatic and dangerous. Yet almost all the few outsiders who actually met the man came away impressed by his intelligence, moderation, rationality and openness."

You don't rule a nation with an iron fist for seventeen years without possessing a high degree of intelligence. Kim had to have been an extremely shrewd individual to have been able to have remained in power despite presiding over the economic decline of his country and, especially, the devastating food shortages that led to a famine that may have killed up to 3.5 million people by some estimates. Clark would no doubt dispute such figures as being an example of unreasonable and unwarranted Western hostility to Kim's regime, but nowhere in his article will you find any mention of all of the hardships endured by the North Korean citizenry under the benevolent guidance of their "Dear Leader". Clark also makes no reference to the personality cult built up around Kim Jong-il, which is understandable as doing so would seem to undercut any evidence of the man's so-called "rationality". Clark doesn't dwell, either, on the ironic juxtaposition of Kim's "openness" while at the helm of the world's most secretive country.

Clark next goes on to place the blame for the failure of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea (Wikipedia article link) squarely on

"...U.S. congressional conservatives and Pentagon hawks (who) moved to deny those agreements. They said the North Korean regime could not be trusted and was, in any case, about to collapse. But Pyongyang did not collapse, and Kim has since used various carrot-and-stick tactics — everything from cultural invitations to rocket and nuclear testing — while trying to bring the U.S. back to its 1994 promises..."

It is true the Agreement failed in large part due to Congressional opposition and insufficient funding, but Clark fails to mention to us here that it was the North Koreans' admission in 1998 that they had maintained a secret uranium enrichment program that led to the Agreement's demise. And only in Clark's world can "cultural invitations" be considered on an equal level with "rocket and nuclear testing" when it comes to international negotiations.

Japan, of course, fares no better than the U.S. when it comes to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK):

"Sublimating its justified anger over North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s, Tōkyō 東京 was able in 2002 to gain a remarkable apology from Kim and the conditional return of five abductees, in exchange for Tōkyō promises to normalize relations and pay long overdue reparations. But fearing this would lead to detente with the hated communist regime, the Japanese right-wing, led by (Shinzō) Abe 安倍晋三, swept into action. It demanded, and got, a Tōkyō withdrawal of its promise to accept Pyongyang's conditions for the return of the five former abductees. It then began to use dodgy DNA data to prove that Pyongyang was lying when it denied holding on to other alleged abductees. This then allowed it to argue that Pyongyang's alleged lies justified reneging on the 2002 normalization promises.

Images of other abductees languishing in a North Korean hell — the beautiful but almost certainly deceased, Megumi Yokota 横田めぐみ, especially — were used to gain wide public support for severe sanctions which, we were told, would force Pyongyang to back down. In fact all it has done, predictably, is force Pyongyang to clam up. Relations with North Korea are now totally frozen, which means even less chance of any further abductee return — if such a chance ever existed."

For those of you unfamiliar with what Clark is referring to, you can read the Wikipedia entry on the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. In the late 1970's/early 1980's, up to as many as 70-80 Japanese (though only 17 are officially recognized by the Japanese government) were kidnapped by North Korean agents, and taken from Japan to North Korea, where they were used to train the regime's agents in Japanese language and culture (the woman who blew up Korean Air Flight 858 while posing as a Japanese tourist was taught by one of the abductees). After years of denial, in a 2002 summit meeting with then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichirō Koizumi 小泉純一郎, Kim Jong-il surprisingly admitted to 13 such abductions having occurred, and revealed that five of the unfortunate victims were still alive. The five were eventually allowed to "visit" Japan, but only on the condition that they return to the "workers' paradise". Once back home, however, they all decided, not unsurprisingly, to stay in the land of their birth, and Pyongyang responded by criticizing the Japanese government over its "broken promises".

Though he uses the term "justified anger" in this article, Clark has in the past tried to excuse the kidnappings by claiming that they were in revenge for the use of forced Korean labor by Japan during its colonization of the Korean peninsula. And while trying to appear sympathetic, it is utterly repulsive that he finds nothing wrong with first forcibly abducting the five Japanese nationals, and then demanding that they be returned to North Korea as the price for letting them see their loved ones in Japan again after the long enforced separation. In Clark's world, it is the Japanese political right which is almost solely to blame.

After casting doubt on the North's attacks on the South last year, Clark moves on to why the DPRK has pursued the development of nuclear weapons:

"With his hopes of closer relations with Tōkyō and Washington dashed, Kim seems to have had no choice but to resume rocket and nuclear testing, and to turn increasingly to China, which North Korea had previously distrusted. His son and successor Kim Jong Un will almost certainly have to follow the same path while giving even more power to North Korea's hawkish military."

Again, Japan and the United States are to blame, for the North Korean regime had no other choice but to pursue the nuclear option. And it is interesting that Clark fails to make mention of the fact that it was the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the generous aid the USSR had provided to Pyongyang, that forced North Korea to become more dependent on China.

The Khrushchev comparison mentioned in the article's headline comes in the next-to-last paragraph:

"History will show the late Kim to have been North Korea's Khrushchev. The former Soviet leader also sought detente with the West only to have his hopes dashed by U-2 flights and other U.S. hawk activities, which in turn strengthened the hand of the Soviet hawks. Khrushchev was ousted and that cruel, wasteful and meaningless exercise called the Cold War had to continue for another two decades. Presumably the same will happen over North Korea, with the regime there able to use foreign threats as an excuse for continued domestic repression."

History, apparently, shows a different face to Gregory Clark. Nikita Khrushchev came to power in 1953 following the death of longtime despot Josef Stalin. Though he was one of the dictator's closest advisers, and a supporter of the bloody purges of the 1930's that turned the Soviet Union into a nightmarish police state, Khrushchev made his mark on history by repudiating the worst excesses of Stalin's reign of terror. Though certainly no democrat, he was responsible for lessening the repression within the USSR through what is now known as the Khrushchev Thaw. Nevertheless, the "Gulag Archipelago" remained in existence,  and despite his pursuit of detente with the West, it was Khrushchev who ratcheted up Cold War tensions by approving the construction of the Berlin Wall and the stationing of nuclear arms in Cuba, the latter leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Nor should it be forgotten that in the same year he made his secret speech denouncing Stalin (1956), Khrushchev sent in the Red Army to brutally crush the Hungarian Revolution.

Kim Jong-il also succeeded a brutal dictator, succeeding his father, Kim Il-sung, upon the latter's death in 1994. Unlike Khrushchev, however, there was no attempt to launch a North Korean version of "De-Stalinization". Rather, Kim Jong-il played the Confucian role of dutiful son, elevating his deceased father to the status of "Eternal President of the Republic". Under the rule of the junior Kim, North Korea remained one of the world's most repressive societies, with an extensive gulag system of its own which imprisons thousands of its subjects in internment and reeducation camps (Human Rights in North Korea). The population, of course, has suffered in other ways as well, namely as a result of the food and famine crises (hunger is still a serious concern in the DPRK) and the crippling power shortages. Despite the breakdown in the functions of the centrally-planned economic system, Kim Jong-il made few attempts at reform, clinging to the elder Kim's policy of self-reliance, known as juche (link). And as for detente, it can be argued that the younger Kim played a far more dangerous game of concessions, threats and brinkmanship than his father ever did, at least in the last few years of Kim Il-sung's life. Khrushchev was overthrown by more conservative elements in the Soviet leadership, who feared his reforms had gone too far. What followed Khrushchev's ouster was the stagnation of the Brezhnev years, and the eventual downfall of the USSR. In North Korea's case, however, the stagnation set in long before the senior Kim left the scene, and greatly worsened during the rule of Kim Jong-il. History is going to remember Kim Jong-il, but not as the bright, rational Khrushchev-like figure Gregory Clark imagines him to have been.

Not that this will matter to Clark, though, who concludes his commentary in such a way as to leave a bad taste in the mouth (and by blowing his own horn in the process):

"The one hope is that the shift to China will have a moderating influence. China, too, once had to suffer the same hawk on hawk confrontation as the former Soviet Union, until rescued by China's Gorbachev — the moderate and intelligent premier Zhou Enlai relying on the 1971 so-called ping-pong diplomacy ( in which I was able to participate). For what it's worth, the "En" in Zhou's name is the same ideograph as the "Un" in the name of Jong Il's son. It means benevolent and kind."

It took 27 years of stagnation and decline following the forced retirement of Khrushchev before the peoples of the Soviet Union finally able to break free from a failed economic, political and social experiment that resulted in the needless deaths of millions of people (and with the exception of the Baltic states, the struggle is arguably still continuing in the former republics of the USSR). Can the people of the socialist paradise that is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea afford to wait that long?

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