JIN-241 -- Monday's Teapot Tempest / Niigata's Cold War Theater

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business and Technology News

Issue No. 241
Wednesday, August 27, 2003


++ Viewpoint: Monday's Teapot Tempest / Niigata's Cold War Theater


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++ Viewpoint: Monday's Teapot Tempest / Niigata's Cold War Theater

With the crucial six-way talks on North Korea beginning today, we
thought it might be interesting to head up to Niigata to watch Monday's
docking of the Mangyongbong-92 ferry. Ignoring the posturing by all
sides involved, these talks probably do represent the last real
opportunity for an openly negotiated solution to the nuclear crisis
emerging on the nearby Korean peninsula. Failure won't mean war, of
course, but it will probably mean sanctions, threats and the potential
for intensifying conflict further down the line.

The trip to Niigata and the sight of the ferry finally chugging into
port after a delay of seven months brought the big picture into
sharper focus.

When we arrived, there were plenty of people prepared to dramatize
the sinister scene. The sober NHK men reminded the morning TV
audiences that this was the very same boat that had been used to
smuggle drugs into Japan -- and missile parts out. The seen-it-all-
before Niigata residents explained that the return cargo this time
would be 100 tons of caviar for the communist "Dear Leader." And the
head of the North Korean Residents Association parroted Kim Jong
Il's rhetoric proclaiming that the Japanese protests were all
motivated by...the Bush administration(!).

In the end, both halves of the equation -- capitalist and communist --
are made to look faintly ridiculous by the visit of the Mangyongbong.
Waiting with us on the Niigata wharf were 120 specially selected Japanese
protesters. A handful of them were family and friends of the Japanese
citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang during the 70s and 80s. Their anger
at North Korea is largely justifiable, but it is harder to explain the
mouth-foaming fury of the rest of the crowd. With well-rehearsed air-
punches, the assembled antagonists screamed abuse at the boat and
demanded its immediate return to North Korea, employing the coarsest
Japanese at hand to stake their claims.

Their din was answered by 120 North Korean residents of Japan who
attempted mightily to drown out the Japanese protesters with their
traditional songs of welcome. Each waved a little North Korean flag
in a frenzy, and their gestures were mimicked by the crew of the ferry,
who played live accordion music and waved back from an observation
deck for over an hour.

As the ship disgorged its passengers and cardboard-boxed cargo, the
protests were taken over by the ominous black buses of the 20-odd
Japanese far-right groups, all of whom had trekked the last Niigata
mile to pump out crude anti-Korean rhetoric over giant loudspeakers
mounted on their vehicles.

Later in the day, however, the Niigata port-side authorities proved
once and for all that what a braying mob can't achieve, 30 bureaucrats
with clipboards can. After more than six hours of inspections, Japanese
officials poring over the boat found five trumped-up reasons (allegedly
"safety-related") to keep the ship docked for nearly 12 hours longer.
The Mangyonbong finally embarked on its return voyage Tuesday evening,
with approximately 100 students on board.

The visit served everyone's purposes quite nicely. The protesters
were heard; the Japanese authorities did not look toothless.
And North Korean unity and fortitude were made to appear intact.

All in all: business as usual.

The Mangyonbong is an anomaly -- very odd, but useful. As the talks
today will prove, the melodrama of the cold war remains au courant.
But in order for the rest of the world to take notice, it sometimes
needs to shift its conflicts away from the remote DMZ and into the
spotlight. At the moment, Niigata just happens to be the nearest
available stage.

--The Editors

More on Niigata as a North Asian trading port:

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Written and edited by J@pan Inc staff (editors@japaninc.com)


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