Mon, 21 Aug 2000

Pyongyang grabs what it can get

North Korea is on the biggest diplomatic offensive of its 50- year life. President Kim Jong-Il is on the right track by trying to move his nation out of its long isolation. But smiles and promises are no substitute for action North Korea must take to be accepted in the world.

For almost all of its existence, North Korea has been a reclusive nation. When approached, it has hit out. It has bitten the diplomatic hands of kindness over and over. Now, the country appears to have embarked on a mission to come out of the cold and dark. North Korea will be -- and indeed has been -- gracefully received by the civilized nations of the world. But there are responsibilities that go with the privileges of membership in the international community. Pyongyang must meet them.

Mr. Kim and his country have been linked directly to a string of deadly international terrorist acts that have been among the worst atrocities. They include the 1987 bombing of a Korean Airlines 747 off Burma in which all 115 innocent people died. That act, traced back to the office of President Kim himself -- when he was merely an influential agent working for his father -- is what earned North Korea a place on the then-new Washington list of terrorist "nations of concern".

There has been a long string of terrorist acts since then. It would be a matter to celebrate if North Korea has actually decided to change its ways. But that is not what Mr. Kim said, or promised, at the weekend. He only demanded that Washington remove his country's name from the terrorist list.

Life would be nice if things were that easy. They are not. Lloyd Axworthy, the Canadian external affairs minister, established formal relations with Pyongyang last month, during the ASEAN Regional Forum in Bangkok. But he said Canada has no confidence that Pyongyang will actually act responsibly. Mr. Kim has it backwards. The onus is not on the world to carry flags and bunting to welcome North Korea. It is on North Korea. Pyongyang must account for its atrocious past. And it must convince the world that it intends to change, and to act in a responsible manner.

-- The Bangkok Post