Monday, February 21, 2005
On this day:

Where is Kim Jong-Il? ...and Japan's New Assertiveness

At the same time the Chinese government was condemning the U.S. and Japan for declaring Taiwan to be a "mutual security concern," it sent a top Chi-Com Party official to North Korea in an attempt to persuade the Communist government there to return to six-nation talks over its nuclear program.

The Chi-Com official, Wang Jiarui, is slated to meet with Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il. It'll be interesting to see whether any photos emerge from that meeting, as there the Dear Leader has been conspicuously absent from the public view recently, prompting speculation about his whereabouts and even his grip on power.

All of this was happening as Japan's foreign minister was in Washington talking Taiwan, missile defense, and North Korea.

In Washington, Japan's foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, said he hoped China "will serve the role not just as a mere moderator, but also as a player actively at work on the North Koreans" to rejoin the talks.

In response, North Korea criticized Japan's new defense guidelines, which singled out North Korean missiles as a threat and allowed Japan to pursue a missile defense program with Washington. According to Pyongyang, the guidelines adopted in December were a sign that Tokyo has joined "U.S. vicious hostile policy" toward its communist state.

While all eyes are focused on China, the importance of Japan's role in world affairs shouldn't be understated. They are a powerful friend of the United States, and are increasingly willing to use that power in defense of their interests. Japanese influence may well end up being the single biggest factor in bringing the North Korean situation to a peaceful (hopefully) conclusion. The stepped-up cooperation between the U.S. and Japan is encouraging and even poignant - two free and independent nations standing together against tyranny - whether on the Korean peninsula or in the Taiwan Straits.