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The Void in North Korea’s Economic Relationship with Japan: Is Kim Wasting His Abductions Card?
Region: Asia
Theme: Economics
Published October 6, 2016
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Much is made in Western circles of North Korea’s economic dependence on China amid questions of whether and how much leverage this gives Beijing. In an end game, however, Pyongyang may think it has other cards to play, and Beijing, knowing this, leans toward caution. One important card long held by the North Koreans, and perhaps a trump card, is the relatively easy ways that Pyongyang could repair or at least improve relations with Japan, and from that gain great economic benefit. This may seem surprising and unlikely given the frosty, if not frozen, current relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo, and the virtual absence of bilateral economic activity, but it is this void in relations, and the possibility that it could be filled quickly to the benefit of both sides, that provides Pyongyang some room to maneuver should it run into real trouble. A few years ago, simply accepting a little more blame for Japanese-Koreans abducted two generations ago, and providing more data on that ill-advised Kim Il-sung project, might have led to normalization of political relations and ten billions dollars or so in Japanese colonial-era reparations, enough to rebuild a great deal of the country’s dilapidated infrastructure. The amount of money would certainly be large enough to give new credibility to Kim Jong-un’s desire to build an economically prosperous country.

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