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Editorials
Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Time will tell whether
N. Korea has changed

Bullet The issue: The meeting of the leaders of North and South Korea has raised hopes for peace.

Bullet Our view: It isn't clear whether North Korea will revert to hostile tactics or whether its policy has really changed.

THE summit meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas, long bitter enemies, followed by the United States' lifting of economic sanctions on North Korea, are hopeful signs. It would be dangerous, however, to assume that peace is at hand on the Korean Peninsula and that this country can let down its guard.

North Korea has a long record of following up diplomatic feints toward peace with a reversion to hostile tactics. Its leaders have seemed to believe that their survival depends on keeping their democratic opponents off balance. Whether Kim Jong-il, who succeeded his father, longtime dictator Kim Il-sung, six years ago, intends to continue those tactics or has turned his regime's policy irrevocably toward peace won't be clear for some time. There are plenty of skeptics.

American specialists on Korea point out that Kim Jong-il is believed to have been the mastermind of the terrorist bombing of a South Korean airliner that killed 115 people in 1987. They find it hard to reconcile such activities and his leadership of one of the most repressive governments in the world with his recent attempt to present himself as an amiable fellow.

Former Rep. Stephen Solarz, D-N.Y., recalled that hopes were high in December 1991 after North and South Korea signed a similar agreement, but nothing came of it because of the "intransigence" of Pyongyang.

Although both Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung vowed to pursue reunification of the divided nation, no concrete steps were announced. It appeared that the leaders were merely giving lip service to the goal.

The difficulties are formidable. It's impossible to imagine reunification without a dismantling of the North Korean Communist regime. Moreover, South Korea has lost its enthusiasm for reunification after observing Germany's economic problems in absorbing the former East Germany. Seoul fears that a collapse of the Pyongyang regime, which is a virtual economic basket case, would overwhelm South Korea with the task of absorption.

There is also less than meets the eye to the Clinton administration's easing of economic sanctions. The president announced the plan to reduce sanctions nine months ago; the formal implementation of that plan has just occurred.

The action allows trade in most products and raw materials -- trade in weapons or technology with military applications is still banned -- but North Korea has little to sell and can't afford to buy much. The main effect is symbolic. The action was taken in the hope of evoking a more cooperative attitude in the North.

In the same spirit, South Korea canceled a military parade and battle-scene re-enactments to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

However, North Korea issued a statement accusing the U.S. of increasing the danger of war and escalating tensions -- a reversion to a tired old refrain. All that Washington apparently did to provoke that outburst was to say it was premature to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea.

Has anything really changed? Perhaps. The world will have to wait and see.


State foreign policies

Bullet The issue: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state and local governments cannot enforce procurement laws that conflict with U.S. foreign policy.

Bullet Our view: States and cities will have to make their moral points in ways that don't usurp the federal government's role.

SCORES of states and local governments enacted laws in the 1980s aimed at isolating South Africa economically because of apartheid. Those laws went unchallenged, and Massachusetts legislators probably saw no problem in similarly trying to punish Myanmar by turning a cold shoulder to companies doing business with that country's military regime.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Massachusetts' "Burma law" violates the Constitution's assignment of foreign affairs and foreign commerce to the federal government. States and cities will have to make their moral points in other ways.

As many as two million people are subjected to forced labor in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Amnesty International reports that its military has killed thousands of civilians and tortured, raped, imprisoned and forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands.

To make its protest, Massachusetts two years ago precluded state agencies from purchasing goods or services from companies doing business with Myanmar. Such companies could provide essentials to the state, but only if their bids were at least 10 percent lower than all others. The National Foreign Trade Council, an association that includes 346 prohibited companies, including 44 U.S. companies, objected.

Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, Justice David H. Souter said the Massachusetts state law was "at odds with the president's intended authority to speak for the United States among the world's nations" to promote democracy and human rights in Myanmar. Souter indicated that the high court issued no such ruling regarding state laws affecting South Africa because it was never asked.

The decision is likely to result in the nullification of laws in various state and local governments, including New York City and Los Angeles, restricting purchases from companies doing business with China, Myanmar or Northern Ireland. It should give those government pause in trying to affix moral standards to business practices carrying foreign implications.

James Madison commented in the "Federalist Papers" that "if we are to be one nation in any respect, it clearly ought to be in respect to other nations." That is the sound principle the Supreme Court applied in this decision.






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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor




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