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Saturday, March 11, 2000

Japan resumes food
aid to North Korea

Bullet The issue: Japan has announced it will give North Korea 100,000 tons of rice.

Bullet Our view: Tokyo was mollified when North Korea said it would not test any more missiles.

Since its defeat in World War II, Japan has usually followed the United States' lead on foreign policy issues while strictly avoiding commitments to military action. With regard to North Korea, however, Japanese policy has recently been tougher than Washington's.

The United States and South Korea under President Kim Dae-jung have adopted conciliatory policies toward the Communist regime, hoping to avoid a military showdown. Japan of course doesn't want a military showdown either, but it was shaken when North Korea fired a three-stage rocket over northern Japan into the Pacific in August 1998. In response, Tokyo suspended food donations to the famine-stricken country.

However, the government of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi has now relented, announcing that it will give North Korea 100,000 tons of rice. In addition, it will follow through on a decision to reopen talks on normalizing relations with Pyongyang.

In talks with the United States last year, North Korea promised not to test missiles, prompting the Japanese decision to resume aid. Japan and North Korea agreed in December to resume talks on normalization, and preliminary meetings were held in Beijing.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki explained that diplomatic relations are essential for stability in East Asia. Officials will hold the first round of talks in Pyongyang, the second in Tokyo, and the third in Beijing or another country, Aoki said.

But there is a complication. The talks on normalizing relations had been suspended amid accusations that North Korea abducted Japanese citizens as part of its spy training. There are charges that the Communist regime kidnapped at least 10 Japanese in the late 1970s to teach North Korean spies Japanese customs and pronunciation.

Parents who say their children were kidnapped protested the announcement of food aid, demanding that Japan make the return of their sons and daughters a condition for further aid.

Aoki said that giving food would encourage North Korea to investigate the kidnapping claims.

North Korea has suffered severe food shortages because of years of drought and economic crisis. The United States has contributed at least 500,000 tons of food and China has also made large contributions.

In addition to relieving suffering, the Clinton administration has hoped that the aid would nudge North Korea to adopt a more conciliatory policy and reduce the threat of war.

However, there has been suspicion that the aid was diverted by North Korea to feed the army. Now those suspicions have been strengthened by extensive military exercises carried out in North Korea, described as the heaviest winter training cycle in recent years.

This suggests that despite the famine, North Korea is providing substantial amounts of food to the military, casting doubt on the entire policy of contributing food just when Japan is about to resume its contributions. North Korea continues to keep Washington, Seoul and Tokyo guessing about its intentions.

Meanwhile those Japanese parents are still trying to locate the children who disappeared nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Video on suicide

Bullet The issue: A local coalition is trying to prevent television showings of a video guide to committing suicide.

Bullet Our view: Such efforts are futile because this information is readily available.

THE showings on local public-access television of a video guide to committing suicide has produced strong criticism. Giving an edge to the objections is the possibility that the showings may have led to the suicides of two persons here. A Honolulu medical examiner said she believed in the connection because the suicides used methods similar to those shown on the video.

Now a local coalition that opposes legalization of physician-assisted suicide says it will campaign nationally to prevent future showings of the controversial video. The coalition, comprised of professional medical organizations and other groups, helped to defeat proposed state legislation that would have legalized doctor-assisted suicide.

Olelo Community Television showed the video twice last week but decided it will not run again. The video is based on "Final Exit," a best-selling book by Derek Humphry, founder of the Hemlock Society. The success of the book testifies to the fact that information on committing suicide is readily available.

The two suicides that may have been connected to the showings of the video were of depressed persons. This is a different issue from physician-assisted suicide. People suffering from depression are not the intended subjects of physician-assisted suicide, which is supposed to be for those with terminal illnesses or those suffering pain that cannot be endured or relieved. Presumably no physician would assist a person suffering from depression to commit suicide.

Preventing the showing of the suicide video would not stop people from obtaining the information it contains -- or from killing themselves in some manner. The video is simply another way of presenting the information. It is done in an unsensational, responsible manner.

Although we have no desire to encourage people to take their own lives, we cannot support attempts to suppress information about suicide -- which in any event are certain to be futile.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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