Monday, August 24, 2009

Divided Korea: all discord, harmony misunderstood

Politics, to tweak 'Proverbs', 'do not profit in the day of wrath'. It needs be best cast in a rational light, with the absence of an excess of zeal, and a good pinch of cold reasoning.
Guam Diary thus begins with a doff of the hat to the 18 century English poet Alexander Pope, in whose 'Essay of Man' one finds this line: 'all discord, harmony misunderstood'. And it speaks to the mad dash of events occurring on the divided Korean peninsula.
The logjam blocking any understanding betweeen the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea] and the US and the DPRK and the ROC [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] broke during the mission of mercy of Citizen Bill Clinton. As Guam Diary observed, the former US president during whose presidency fostered civil relations with North Korea without diplomatic recognition, nor for that matter directing policy towards a peace treaty ending the Korean war [1950-1953], stopped in Seoul before flying off to Pyongyang.
Guam Diary dared suggest that Citizen Clinton who journeyed to the DPRK for the release of two US journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard labour, during a 195 minute tete a tete with Kim Jong il must needs have verbally and perhaps in writing transmitted a message from US president Barack Obama [BHO]. Not only that, he had the time and the leisure to pass on a message from ROC president Lee Myung bak, who once in office in early 2008, squandered the good capital amassed during Kim Dae Jung's 'Sunshine policy' towards the North, d which his successor Roh Moo hyun pursued by a second North South summit in Pyongyang. Mr. Lee blocked out the sunshine, reverting to a cold war policy towards the DPRK.
On the heels of Citizen Clinton's trip, North Korea received on a private mission of mercy and in the interest of business and investment in the DPRK, Mme. Hyun Jeong un, the CEO of the Hyundai Group. She did not leave North Korea empty handed for she obtained the release of a Hyundai technician in the Kaesong industrial park under arrest for 137 for trying to persuade a North Korean female at Kaesong, with whom he was smitten, to flee to South Korea with him. Mme. Hyun obtained his release as well as the promise that 4 South Korean fisherman would soon be released.
Her visit lanced a boil which had almost brought work at Kaeson to a halt, thereby threatening Hyundai's investment there, among other South Korean 'chaebols'.
Yet, back channels met at the funeral of Kim Dae Jung. Kim Jong il dispatched a high powered delegation to Seoul to bow low at the altar erected in the former South Korean president's memory. Its presence allow Mr. Lee's ministry of unification to initiate talks for 80 minutes. This quickly led to a 30 minute session with president Lee Myung bak, who although he openly declares that he will not change one whit his tack towards the North, received a verbal message from Kim Jong il to which he responded.
Today [24 August 2009] 'Al Jazeera English's press release is full of a possible summit meeting between Kim Jong il and Lee Myung bak. Guam Diary will let that lay uncommented for the time being.

On the US side, it is becoming clearer and clearer that the BHO administration, ever true to its hard line stance towards the DPRK, touting sanctions and isolation, among other measures, is using former members of the Clinton White House in the pursuit of a larger, more flexible opening towards Pyongyang. New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson, Bill Clinton's ambassador to the UN and trouble shooter who has dealt with Pyongyang, is talking 'privately' in Santa Fe with high level senior DPRK at the North Korean mission to the UN, on matters dealing with nuclear issues and alternative energy options. Madeleine Albright, Clinton's secretary of state and close adviser and chum of BHO's secretary of state Hillary Clinton, represented the US at Kim Dae Jung's funeral. She had met Kim Jong il in Pyongyang in October 2000; a shrewd politician, she sized her time in the DPRK and more to point Kim Jong il in a positive light. She couldn't but 'run into' the mourners from the DPRK.

Therefore on two fronts public and private, events on divided Korea are moving fast, as though a dormant volcano had suddenly spewed hot gases of change and molten diplomatic lava was flowing.

On the other hand, secretary of state Hillary Clinton has not let up on her policy of enforcing UN resolutions calling for sanctions against the DPRK; urgently calling Pyongyang to take its seat at the six party talks on its nuclear policy, a venue which Kim Jong il repudiated 'once and for all' after Mr. Obama sought sanctions through the UN when the DPRK didn't obey his orders to cease and desist its launch of a satellite on a long range rocket in early April 2009.

At the same time of Kim Dae Jung's funeral, the state department's sanctions enforcer Philip Goldberg is on a tour of Asia, to encourage the region to abide by the terms of UN resolution 1854, to force the DPRK back to talks in Beijing. And in Washington, the US treasury's Sean Lavery is trying to apply sanctions by freezing DPRK bank accounts and block its business dealings with foreign partners.
So far sanctions have proven weak. India seized the North Korean 'MV Mu San', suspected of transporting nuclear technology, only to discover 16.500 ton[n]es in its hold. Singapore where it is rumoured to have put into port, kept no record of its docking there. As for freezing accounts and inhibiting business ventures abroad, the Treasury and the UN have come up with a poor list, since the businesses affected are domiciled in Iran. The US had its own problems with Tehran, so it cannot count on any cooperation there.

As for the media, lazy as usual, it simply repeats the myth that the sanctions are working, and of course any bit of rumour or gossip. As for the hard line think tank pooh bahs and rabid anti DPRK journalists, they call shout from the rooftops but change now is coming in approaches from Washington and Seoul towards Pyongyang. And Pyongyang is responding, out of necessity. What the hard liners have not grasped, nor the feckless politicians and policy makers spurned, was that the DPRK has for a long time called for direct negotiations on an equal footing, to solve outstanding issues going back almost 6 decades.

And so we leave the story here for now.

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