Still, the issues between the two countries are not intractable. Proper historical understanding of these issues would promote an atmosphere conducive to their solution and improved relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang, which in turn would go a long way towards settling issue of North Korea's nuclear program. In this paper, I would like to examine the North Korean-Japanese relationship in the context of the new international environment. To do this, I will look at the major themes of that relationship, attempts to improve relations, and the prospects for the future.
Conditions in North Korea
Japan, of course, was North Korea's colonial master for 36 years, and Kim Il-sung had been an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader. The fact that the Kim Il-sung cult of personality was based largely on exaggerated accounts of his role in defeating the Japanese colonialists insure that internal propaganda as well as pronouncements from North Korea's foreign ministry emphasize the two country's historical animosity.
Juche (self-reliance), the state ideology of North Korea, promotes a highly autarchic economic policy of disengagement from the world market and massive investment of labor and capital in heavy industry. Much of the industry is geared towards the maintenance of an 800,000-man standing army. As a result, the export sector has remained undeveloped and there is a chronic shortage of hard currency. While the street scenes from Pyongyang we occasionally get a glimpse of in television reports don't look particularly dismal, it is important to remember that the standard of living is much higher in Pyongyang than in the countryside, and authorities are very careful about what they allow to be filmed.
The North Korean Worker's Party calls North Korea a "paradise on Earth," and claims that its people have nothing to envy in the world. However, the economy, which had been in trouble for years, was hurt badly by the collapse of their main trading partner, the Soviet Union. The loss of Soviet trade and aid led to problems in transportation, insufficient electricity, and a shortage of agricultural machinery and food.
The adverse conditions North Korea was faced with as a result of the end of the Cold War forced it to reconsider its relations with the countries with which it has the worst relations, namely the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Their proximity and the size of their markets make them North Korea's most likely trading partners. Any easing of tension would allow North Korea to divert some of its resources from the over-bloated military sector towards the household sector, a must if living conditions are to improve. Furthermore, without two superpowers aiming massive and hair-triggered nuclear arsenals at each other, Pyongyang has had to retool its policy towards a United States that would not have to risk nuclear annihilation should it decide to attack North Korea. Because North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with any of these three countries, merely setting up talks and maintaining a dialogue is extremely complicated.
North Korean Grievances
The North Korean grievances against Japan are for the most part relics of the colonial past. Major grievances include the failure of Japan to compensate North Korea for its colonial rule, discrimination against North Korean citizens in Japan who are descended from ethnic Koreans in large part coerced to work in Japan during the colonial era, and wartime atrocities such as the practice of forcing Korean women into sexual slavery for the benefit of Japanese troops.