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Michael Ubaldi, September 17, 2003.

Getting serious with Pyongyang, on any number of issues, seems to be a shared popular desire:

The Japanese families of people abducted to North Korea on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the historic visit by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Pyongyang by demanding that the Japanese government take a tougher stance to settle the abduction issue.

They met the press in Tokyo after North Korea's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said that the abduction issue was "settled" when Koizumi visited Pyongyang and met leader Kim Jong Il on Sept. 17 last year.

But many families of those believed abducted said no progress has since been made to settle the abduction issue.

...Kayoko Arimoto, mother of Keiko Arimoto who was kidnapped by North Korean agents from Europe when she was 23, pledged to continue a campaign to rescue her daughter and other abductees.

"I believe Keiko is alive and waiting for our rescue," she said. "I will keep campaigning for her rescue as long as I can."

Yes, North Korea is everyone's problem.

UPDATE: And North Korea has made it more than obvious that it's erratic and dishonest at the negotiating table with any party - for a dictatorship, at that. Don't expect any gentlemen's frameworks to be agreed upon in the near future; that goes for Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

Michael Ubaldi, September 16, 2003.

Steven caught a quiet press report about a possible Chinese military buildup on the North Korean border. And he did write about a possible Chinese occupation of North Korea. I e-mailed him a question a few days ago about China's potential for mischief while America's alliance is occupied with terrorists and host states, and must have missed it. Do the Chinese intend to declare eminent domain on Kim Jong Il and his 120,000 square kilometer prison? I'm certain they'd try if they were confident they could get away with it. Most of the rest of the world, more than happy to qualify China as "not as bad" as North Korea, would accept Chinese occupation, U.N. mandate or not. Depending on the strategic stakes involved, the Bush administration - surprisingly deferential to the Chinese over the past three years - might go along with the idea as well.

But that's been my worry: In a global political climate popularizing security from terrorists and tyrant states (the latter a classification from which China is inexplicably excused), China's oligarchy would step in, smile for cameras about "doing their part," and absorb a neighbor or two. As Michael Ledeen pointed out shortly after September 11th, economic success risks being galvanized into nationalistic, authoritarian ambitions, and much of our "engagement" amounts to feeding a hungry lion in an attempt to tame it:

Mr. Bush has to contend with the present state of affairs, and must evaluate the risks and challenges of contemporary China. Classical fascism was the product of war, and its leaders praised military virtues and embarked upon military expansion. Chinese leaders often proclaim a peaceful intent, yet they are clearly preparing for war, and have been for many years. Optimists insist that China is not expansionist, but optimists pooh-poohed Hitler's imperialist speeches too, and there is a lot of Chinese rhetoric that stresses Beijing's historic role, as if there were an historic entitlement to superpower status.

Beijing is only coy now because China lacks military and strategic advantages - behavior that fits in perfectly with the cool-headed totalitarian profile. And I'm even less agreeable with the idea that China's going to collapse like the Soviet Union or dog-paddle its way to liberalism like Taiwan. We can always hope, of course, but national security doesn't work like that.

Having just left political fashion of the Cold War and those years' unfortunate need for some moral equivalence, no elected leader over the past twelve years has bluntly warned the world's dictatorships that they lack the authority and reputation to participate freely in maintaining the security of the world (e.g., they're the sole reason for instability). Exceptions are made for strategic purposes, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but for how long? It's very likely that the most capable despots will seek conquest - internal or external - under the auspices of global justice (for real, not like the lame accusations against Bush by the nihilist left and isolationist right).

However polite and sophisticated, China is a dictatorship and until Beijing's regime finally falls, its purported good intentions should be viewed as suspicious at best. "World responsibility" aside, the country's treatment of its uncooperative citizens and conquered territories speaks volumes. Receiving the blessing of their democratic military and economic superior - the United States - for removing Kim Jong Il and his nuke-tipped histrionics would be a great prize, and would enable the Chinese to move south at their leisure. And remember: in an invasion, they wouldn't bind themselves to the same "economically disadvantageous" humanitarian concerns as South Korea or the United States. So as Steven kids, "so how is your realpolitik?"

Interesting as this development is - assuming we can describe it as that - if a Chinese expansion goes unchallenged, it doesn't bode well for the world ten or twenty years down the road.

UPDATE: John Derbyshire happened to write about China today, and the topic is Tibet's plight. Free China, he says, and you free Tibet. Indeed. A wealth of culture and ingenuity in both places, under the thumb of tyrants - that's a crime.

Michael Ubaldi, September 12, 2003.

Japan's already positive economic outlook has brightened again:

Improved business spending and better prospects for exporters prompted the Japanese government to raise its official reading on the economy for the second straight month on Friday, though officials stopped short of saying a full recovery was under way.

"The economy is showing signs it is headed for a recovery," the Cabinet Office said in a monthly report, a shift in the all-important wording from the August report's verdict that economic conditions were flat.

The upgrade follows a string of data suggesting Japan's economy is perking up after a decade of stagnation.

Japan ought not bungle this one up outright by, say, raising taxes, as they did to smother their 1997 upswing. The Wall Street Journal opined on the subject this past Wednesday, advising Japanese market planners to abandon their soft version of the legendary zaibatsu grandfather corporations and the fantasy-world economy that comes along with such indulgences of tradition-over-practice. By keeping bad businesses and failing banks artificially alive, the island does no more good to economic longevity than America would have done to rock'n'roll by saturating Elvis on his deathbed with preservative, fitting him with electrodes and having the late star perform like the animatronic Country Bear Jamboree.

Japan is on the verge of a great opportunity. Here's to hoping they make the best of it.

Michael Ubaldi, September 11, 2003.

Koorosh Afshar sent me word of his latest essay in Iran va Jahan:

You might still remember that our youth, the new generation of the Iranians, we, were the only people among the Middle Eastern countries, while opposing the ruling mullahs, poured into the streets and held candle light vigils to show our solidarity with the Americans, quite contrary to the vile policies of our government. At the time this seemed quite sufficient to disclose to others as to how we felt about the 9/11 tragedy.

Removing the last excuse for the mullahs and also to dismiss any probable doubt regarding their role in these catastrophic events[,] some links were found later which suggested that the mullahs of the Islamic Republic have very close ties with the "Al Qaida," as they previously had with other terrorist groups.

The irony is that while we shared the same pain and grief with the modern world on that day, I am afraid many of Westerners might not have known that September, points to a very bitter experience in the common memory of my nation too.

It was almost on these same days, nearly 15 years ago, that the old Devil of deadly wrath and fear, Ayatollah Khomeini, ordered his henchmen to execute thousands of prisoners of conscience (mostly political prisoners) in an unprecedented action not only in our contemporary history but also in our distant history. One might only be able to trace similar acts in the early centuries of the Arab incursion to Persia.

...I can certainly name a few patriotic Iranians who have, and will remain inspiring to all of us in this struggle, but in such adverse times, I'm reminded of the eloquent words of Thomas Paine, when he said:

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.

Rest assured that our [conscience], the [conscience] of the youth in Iran, approves our conduct.

It's well worth a read. We hear you, Koorosh. And we know you hear us.

Michael Ubaldi, September 7, 2003.

We've taken Axis nations to task before:

America will tomorrow demand that the United Nations takes urgent action to prevent Iran acquiring the atom bomb as fears mount that Teheran is on course to develop a nuclear weapons capability within two years.

United States officials will make the demand at a special meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that has been arranged to consider a 10-page report by Mohammed al-Baradei, the agency's director-general, into the state of Iran's nuclear programme.

And expect, from the beginning, United Nations ambivalence and indecision:

Mr. al-Baradei writes in the report's conclusion that "there remain a number of important outstanding issues, particularly with regard to Iran's enrichment programme, that require urgent resolution".

US officials, however, are concerned that Mr. al-Baradei, who this year argued in favour of UN inspectors being given more time to locate Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, will try to play down the significance of the recent discoveries made in Iran.

...Although Mr al-Baradei admits that the Iranians have deployed a variety of delaying tactics to prevent UN inspectors gaining access to secret nuclear facilities, he believes that they should be given more time to comply with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

But the close, unqualified relations of Old Europe and the UN with the world's worst dictators has not yet served as a permanent obstacle for justice. For the first time, freedom-loving people of Iran, Iraq and the larger world face a growing, palpable threat from Tehran's mullahs. Everyone who's neither a terrorist nor a statist thug could use some visible resolve from the Bush administration - and we may be about to get it.

UPDATE: From Dan Darling, a pretty darned good reason for America to turn its attention to Tehran. Key word? Al Qaeda.

Michael Ubaldi, September 3, 2003.

North Korea's performance as a dictatorial pariah is something of a tautology. What more can be written about than the DPRK's congenital unreliability in civilized conduct, brutality towards the North Korean population and obsession with catastrophic weapons? It's like putting together a script for The Three Stooges: maybe a little something unexpected but for the most part, variations on a theme. James Robbins busts the average:

This instrumentalist view of international agreements may not come as a surprise to students of Soviet history, but if there are any of them in the State Department, they were probably reading Lenin for the wrong reasons.

Dennis Miller, move over!

Michael Ubaldi, September 1, 2003.

A so-called corporate hegemon is only as good as its ubiquity:

Three North Asian countries are closer to signing a deal to co-develop an open source operating system to replace Windows, according to the Japan news daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

The agreement is likely to be announced this week by Japanese Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma at an economic ministers' meeting in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, said the report, quoting unnamed sources.

...All three countries involved already have thriving Linux software developer communities, especially in embedded Linux, the small-footprint operating system used in devices such as set-top boxes and industrial machines.

This is no surprise, given a recent Japanese flirtation with tycoon dark horse Michael Robertson and his OS upstart, Lindows. Nobody needs to kill Microsoft; just provide it with some competition. Consumers, as usual, would then be the victors.

Michael Ubaldi, September 1, 2003.

Good news for us is good news for the world's biggest little island:

The Tokyo stock market's key Nikkei average surged more than three percent on Monday to its highest since July 2002 as signs of global economic recovery sparked buying of a wide range of issues, including top brokerage Nomura Holdings Inc 8604.T.

Fuelling the buying spree was a report showing strong growth in manufacturing in the U.S. Midwest, which sent the U.S. Nasdaq .IXIC to a 2003 closing high on Friday and reassured investors that an upswing in Japan's top trading parter is under way.

...The Nikkei has rallied 13 percent in the past three weeks thanks to surprisingly strong Japanese growth data for the April-June quarter issued on August 12 and data released last week showing a bigger-than-expected rise in industrial output in July.

It looks as though all those headlines of markets buckling worldwide we heard some months ago were overstated - when not downright wrong. If an impending economic boom can eventually pull Japan out of its decade-long slump, we're in for some bountiful times ahead.

Michael Ubaldi, August 28, 2003.

Yes, I meant "pugilists" when I said it. Glenn Reynolds caught Christopher Hitchens' latest badge of anger. If God has a blasphemy seismograph up above, it just scribbled a "big one."

Hitchens' attack on the Commandments is probably one of the least-informed screeds from an otherwise professional journalist most people will ever read in a lifetime. Paragraph ten, for instance - uh, Temptation in the Garden, Christopher? Even if someone disbelieves in the veracity of the Bible, the least they could do is crack one and figure out what the book actually says. After that, a single one-hour Bible study at a local church could sort out most of the symbolism on which to debate. A layman could tear this column to shreds line by line (if they wanted to join in earnest these silly games cynics like to play).

As it is, Hitchens has essentially basted himself for the theologians' grill. I'd expect a response or two from the Weekly Standard and National Review. One might as well fly in Stephen Hawking's face and taunt him with "Is it mind over matter or matter over mind?" (which has been done before, and you'll never, ever, ever figure out by whom - no hints, OX!)

Michael Ubaldi, August 28, 2003.

The detention of Fumiaki Yamada has come to a fortunate end:

Fumiaki Yamada, head of a Japanese group called The Society To Help Returnees To North Korea was deported from Shanghai soon after his release and arrived at Narita airport Thursday evening.

...Chinese officials said that they deported Yamada because he was involved in the illegal stay of the North Koreans and, as a result, hampered the Chinese immigration authorities in carrying out their duties.

But a small tragedy, as we can guess what Chinese immigration duties consist of:

The three South Koreans were also released and went to Seoul on Thursday, but the whereabouts of the North Koreans remained unknown, members of Yamada's NGO said.

North Koreans will continue to find themselves helped across the razor-wire border into freedom. But this group? - and they were so close. Someday they'll be in Paradise, I suppose. For now, that's the only reliable deliverance anyone living that nightmare can hope for.