Sunday, August 23, 2009

Divided Korea: connecting dots

Repetition, it is said, is good for the soul. And putting together the disparate pieces of the noticeable incipient thaw in US DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea] and DPRK ROC [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] relations, to understand the diplomatic waltz and to discern of the patterns of the dance of statecraft, the story bears iteration.
The BBC in the small hours of 24 August 2009, broadcast the news that former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright was representing the US at the funeral of the late former ROC president and Nobel peace prize winner, Kim Dae Jung. The announcement in itself is hardly worthy of note but for one thing. The DPRK had sent a very senior delegation to Seoul, to pay to the memory of Mr. Kim. [Worth noting is the closeness of Mme. Albright to secretary of state Hillary Clinton, as friend and advisor.]

Lest memory fails us, Mme. Albright in her capacity as the senior most secretary of US diplomacy, had personally met with Kim Jong il in Pyongyang in October 2000. Upon her return, she had a good understanding the man who rules North Korea, one based on reality and serious discussions with a view of improving US North Korea relations. In a way, it was a trial balloon for a possible visit of then president Bill Clinton to the DPRK. Weakened by impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal, and nearing the end of his second mandate as president, Mr. Clinton was ill advised by the Korea lobby to scratch the visit. He did. Eight years turned a growing relationship with Pyongyang, a relationship without its tensions, disagreements, mutual distrust, but a cultivation of the ground of statecraft of both Pyongyang and Washington, which bore some results. The big fish was the seals and monitoring IAEA cameras on North Korea's nuclear site, thereby leaving its nuclear programme in a state of suspended animation. Mr. Bush reversed oars with the tragic consequences we know full well of, transforming through ideological blindness the DPRK into the world's 8 nuclear state!

US president Barack Obama [BHO] simply hardened the arteries of the Bush policy towards North Korea. His secretary of state Hillary Clinton did not spare the sulfuric rhetoric to stigmatise Pyongyang, nor was she any less enthusiastic in pursuing sanctions against the DPRK, thereby heightening tensions reminiscent of the days of the cold war.

But chance throw a curve. Two US journalists entered North Korean territory dumbly and without papers by fording a shallow Tuman river, in hot pursuit of a story. Caught they were, and sentenced to 12 years of hard labour. They provided the hook, after Mme. Clinton apologises, Citizen Bill Clinton, on a private mission of mercy flew to Pyongyang, obtainingg in the release of the two reporters. Before Mr. Clinton journeyed to Pyongyang, he landed in South Korea. There in as a private citizen he, Guam Diary suggests, conferred with officials of the ROC president Lee Myung bak, who had scrapped Kim Dae Jung's 'Sunshine Policty' to the North, thereby relaunching a cold war with no holds bared with North Korea. Someday, we might have wind of Citizen Clinton's discussions with the Lee government, but surely there could not but be serious discussions and a certain coordination of strategy, and possibly a suggestion that Mr. Lee was looking for a way to relax tensions with the North.

As we know, behind the fig leaf of a private visit, the BHO White House had choreographed Mr. Clinton's trip, which included former high ranking officials, and with the hand of a CIA anald yst who had experience negotiating with the DPRK.

Citizen Clinton was a welcome visit to North Korea. Kim Jong il's regime held him in warm esteem for the years of dealing with him when he was president, albeit the tensions and threats and missteps and misunderstanding of one side or the other. Mr. Clinton spent 195 minutes in talks with Kim Jong il, and they were more than a polite enquiry in Mr. Kim's health. It was bruited yet denied that he had orally and in written form passed on a message from BHO.

Suddenly, it seemed that Citizen Clinton, dare Guam Diary suggest, seemed born to break the ice on tensions in divided Korea. Within a relatively short time, there was movement, again cloaked in private visits, without a mandate to negotiate. And it was former members of the Clinton team involved in talking to North Koreans. In the US, troubleshooter and now Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson received in Santa Fe, two senior DPRK diplomats, who normally couldn't fly to the American southwest, without State Department authoritisaiton. Guam Diary won't say that Governor Richardson is a household name in North Korea, but he's a known quantity of familiarity. Now New Mexico is a state with alternate energy programmes which the North Koreans will visit. So you can put money on the fact that discussion of stalled talks on the DPRK's nuclear programme are being approached.

There is movement in the ROC, too. A private visit by Mme. Hyun Jeong un, ceo of the Hyundai group, which has heavily invested in the DPRK, say in Kaesong industrial park and tourism to Kumgang san [Diamond mountain]. Her presence in Pyongyang obtained the freeing of a Hyundai technician held in Kaesong for 137 on criminal charges of urging a North Korean woman worker he
fancied, to defect to the South with him. This countretemps, among other moves by South Korea which had but one goal, that is, to roil Pyongyang; it succeeded to such an extent that it occasioned loss of millions of Korean won in business and bringing to almost a stall to any activity in Kaesong. Kim Jong il promised Mme. Hyun that 4 South Korean fisherman who strayed during inclement weather into North Korean waters, would soon be set free. They aren't at this writing. u

The death of Kim Dae Jung, a man much revered in the DPRK, brought a very high ranking delegation to Seoul to mourn his loss. Ostensibly they would spurn contact with the much disliked Lee Myun bak. And suddenly, the North Koreans not only met with the current and a former ROC minister of unification, but had a 30 minute meeting with the 'dreaded' Mr. Lee. It is given to believe if we read between the lines, a message was transmitted from one side to the other, and from Seoul to Pyongyang as the DPRK delegation flew back to Pyongyang.

In brief, the dots are slowly being connected. The old team of Clinton hands have re emerged as players on divided Korea, as 'private' players...wink, wink, wink. And Citizen Clinton has found a role to play, one which allows the BHO White House, to blow hot and cold with North Korea, whilst laying the ground for substantive progress on outstanding matters with divided Korea, for the last 60 years. Citizen Clinton is proving a useful conduit to Pyongyang from Washington and from Seoul; as a private player, Washington can deny the import of his moves, yet keep a tight leash on his moves and Mme. Clinton's conduct of foreign policy as it affects the DPRK.

And there matters stand for the moment. To be the serial says...

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