Cleaning up the past in northeast Asia





BEIJING -- FOR more than three years, the grinding, often exasperating negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have been about taking the bomb away from Kim Jong-il. As if that were not complicated enough, the agenda is now becoming more ambitious. One new goal could be loosely described as cleaning up the 20th century...

History can be omnipresent or repressed in northeast Asia, but nearly everyone agrees it is festering and unresolved. Historic resentments and nationalist anger are volatile and easily inflamed...

[Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and chief American envoy] has often cast the disarmament talks as part of a larger, holistic effort to address the full range of conflicts in the region.

“We are dealing not only with denuclearization, but we are dealing with some of the problems in the region, some of the problems in the region caused by the region’s difficult history,” Mr. Hill said at one news conference during last month’s negotiations in Beijing. “This type of ambitious undertaking hasn’t been tried before.”

“Difficult history” is a gracious description. On some days, World War II seems ongoing...

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