Any conjecture about the unpredictable North Korean regime is prone to be disproved by subsequent events, but new signals suggest a move towards at least short-term stability on the peninsula. Having achieved the desired scare by preparing to test-fire a ballistic missile with a greater range than the one that flew over Japan a year ago, Pyongyang now is trying to squeeze more concessions from its adversaries. 'If someone comes offering cake, we'll respond with cake,' says a party boss, and, on cue, the United States has reportedly proposed a package of benefits if the missile test is scrapped. Even the improving relationship between South Korea and Japan may work in the North's favour. Tokyo has threatened economic penalties if Pyongyang goes ahead with its test-firing. But South Korea prefers its 'sunshine' policy, and has persuaded Japan that the carrot is mightier than the stick. That means asking Japan to stay with the consortium which will supply the North with light-water reactors in return for a freeze on its nuclear arms programme. Japan withheld its US$1 billion contribution after last August's rocket launch. Meanwhile, Seoul's old enmities with Beijing and Tokyo are being laid aside due to stronger economic ties and mutual concern about Pyongyang. Seoul and China are now each other's third-best trading partner, and yesterday, for the first time, their defence chiefs met in Beijing to discuss the North's intentions because Seoul believes China is the best hope for keeping it in line. At the same time, South Korea's Minister for Unification flew to the US for talks, before a three-way meeting with the Americans and Japanese after next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in New Zealand. With its food crisis declining, and its blackmail technique going well, Pyongyang has reason to be less belligerent. Its best hope of survival is South Korea's realisation that it cannot possibly absorb 22 million people if the North collapses, forcing it to find ways to draw Pyongyang into the wider world peacefully. Today, the North seems ready to eat cake and opt for peace. How long it will stay at the table is anybody's guess.