Wednesday, June 3, 1998

Ending North Korean
sanctions isn’t realistic

SOUTH Korea's new president won election after decades in opposition to military-dominated governments and soon made it clear he intended to make sweeping changes. Now Kim Dae-jung has made his boldest proposal yet -- to end all economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western allies against Communist North Korea.

But accepting that proposal on a unilateral basis requires a leap of faith that seems unjustified. North Korea should be required to end attacks on South Korea, reduce its military strength and ease its repression of its own citizens. Otherwise ending sanctions would deprive the West of its only leverage while gaining nothing in return.

Kim will make a state visit to the United States next week and will address a joint session of Congress. That speech should provide maximum attention for his views.

In an interview with the New York Times, Kim explained his belief that a policy of increasing political engagement and growing economic ties could be the best way to moderate the behavior of North Korea. Kim emphasized that he had no illusions about the North, which even in recent years has sent armed infiltrators into South Korea and continues to maintain a formidable force that could mount an invasion. But he also suggested that it is time to try a new approach to reduce the tensions and the risk of war.

Under the Trading With the Enemy Act, U.S. companies are basically banned from doing any business in or with North Korea. Some exceptions have been made, but the sanctions remain so broad that they have even prevented American basketball teams from signing up a 7-foot-9-inch North Korean player, who would be the tallest on record.

The Clinton administration has tried to deal with the Pyongyang regime. Alarmed by North Korea's attempt to make nuclear weapons, it forged an agreement under which Washington, South Korea and Japan would provide North Korea with a nuclear plant that would generate much less weapons-grade material in return for a freeze on weapons production. However, that deal could still come undone, as North Korea has complained that the United States hasn't complied with some of its terms. Pyongyang has threatened to cancel the pact.

There has been no perceptible softening in the stance of the North since the death of Kim Il-sung and the succession of his son, Kim Jong-il. Still, it may be worthwhile to renew overtures to North Korea and perhaps ease some sanctions to see whether the regime will respond with concessions. But scrapping all sanctions without getting anything in return seems naive.


Souki’s disclosure

AS speaker of the House of Representatives, Joe Souki is one of the key figures in the Legislature. Souki's annual financial disclosure statement filed with the state Ethics Commission reported that his income from his Maui real estate business increased from about $40,000 in 1996 to between $150,000 and $250,000 last year.

Souki subsequently said that the $132,000 increase came from consulting fees in connection with the $5.8 million sale of 100 acres on Maui to the Bishop Estate. This is disturbing because the fees might have influenced his position on one of the most controversial issues before the Legislature this year -- restricting the compensation of Bishop Estate trustees. State Sen. Joe Tanaka was paid $42,000 as a consultant in the same deal.

The speaker said he was paid by the seller, developer Everett Dowling, not by Bishop Estate. He argued that he had no conflict of interest on the issue of trustee compensation because he has no financial stake in how much trustees receive.

However, others might reasonably disagree. Souki and Tanaka should have made public their involvement in the land sale at the time the issue of trustee compensation came up in the Legislature and excused themselves from participation in the Legislature's action. Similarly, Rep. Terrance Tom, who handles some legal matters for the estate, should not have voted on the question.

Bishop Estate Archive

Symphonic blues

THE Honolulu Symphony made the front page of the New York Times this Sunday, although it wasn't on a high note. According to writer Edward Rothstein, there is discord in the music world -- in states from Florida to Hawaii -- as local orchestras lose more and more stage dates to touring Broadway shows. Fans of the Honolulu Symphony, who were incensed when a production of "Miss Saigon" threatened to wreck the 1999-2000 centennial season, should know they are not alone when it comes to defending venues for the performing arts.

The Honolulu Symphony's three-month displacement from its home in the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall for "Miss Saigon" isn't that severe, compared to other places. For example, the Florida Orchestra could get only five of its desired 21 dates in the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center this season.

Similar situations have arisen in nearly every city where there is one major arts complex, including Hartford, Des Moines, Columbus and Charlotte. "The temporary exiles are all the more painful because many classical groups are already suffering from dropping subscription levels and aging audiences," wrote Rothstein. "Moreover, in many cites, performance centers, though owned and run by the municipalities, were built primarily for these groups with donations from their major patrons."

This was precisely the case on Oahu, and the reason that Honolulu Symphony fans were outraged by the city's initial zeal in trying to accommodate "Miss Saigon" at the expense of the orchestra. While the problem seems to have been worked out amicably, lovers of symphonic music must be ever vigilant.

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