Opinion is mixed as to motive – national pride, says North Korea; attention whore, says international community. Of course, in the days to come, we are all about to hear a great deal of bluster and outrage mixed with a generous dose of self-serving hand wringing from various people. Early reactions across the board resemble a furtive scramble as governments around the world try their best to act as if they are the unwitting victims or reluctant inheritors of somebody else’s mess.
There’s China, bristling at North Korea’s deception – they’re apparently taken aback that a man who can watch his own country starve to the point of cannibalism, sell arms and drugs to the highest bidder without discrimination, and constantly threaten nuclear annihilation, is also a liar. Boo-hoo. Should’ve started thinking about it way back when North Koreans began slipping over your border because they find you more liberal.
Then there’s Japan. In their neighborhood, the Japanese have a reputation and that reputation is mud. Even discounting their colonial past, which in many ways set up the present scenario, and their actions during the Second World War that both China and Korea have yet to forgive, Japan’s foreign policy of late seems to have lost its head. Junichiro Koizumi and his handpicked successor Shinzo Abe keep flirting with deeply controversial ideas such militarization and the historical revision of past acts of aggression, which cannot fail to make its neighbors see red. As much as I happen to think that 60 years is time enough to make reparations, going all-out revisionist about what is still living and well-documented memory for many people is perhaps not the best idea to come out of Japan.
North Korea also shares a border and some potted history with Russia. Back in the days of the Czar, it cherished colonial ambitions toward what was then one Korea but got trounced by Japan, which went on to annex its neighbor in 1910. Forty years later, it was the Soviet Union that backed Kim Il Sung (father of the present dictator) in his quest to become supreme commander or revered leader or whatever you like over an united Korea. You might remember the resulting conflict from M*A*S*H because God knows nobody else talks about it. Anyway, another fifty years on, Russia is yet to cut its apron strings. But from the sounds of it they’re now a lot more worried about a nuke on their doorstep than confronting American hegemony.