Friday, August 21, 2009

Divided Korea...a moment of political warming?

Events are overtaking firm standpoints on North and South Korea. Taking a slight breather, it is useless to say who began this or that initiative. Consider US secretary of state Hillary Clinton offering an apology for the 'crimes' of two American journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard labour. Consider, too, one of journalists in a telephone conversation, transmitting the message that Pyongyang would welcome a visit of former president Bill Clinton. And then the heat of political warming, closely monitored and manipulated by the Obama White House of Citizen Clinton's mission of mercy to seek the release of the two reporters. Following on the heels of Citizen Clinton came the chairwoman Mme. Hyun of Hyundai Group to Pyongyang as a private person, seeking the release of a Hyundai technician held for 137 days for encouraging a North Korean female worker at a Hyundai plant in the Kaesong free trade zone inside North Korea. The death of Kim Dae Jung has suddenly opened another door to relaxing the cold war between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Kim Jong il has dispatched Kim Ki-nam and Kim Yang-gon, two senior North Korean officials, to Seoul, to bow low before the special altar built in South Korea's parliament, to honour the memory and passing of former president and Nobel peace prize winner, Kim Dae Jung. You would think that South Korea's president Lee Myung bak might seize the opportunity to thaw arctic cold relations between Pyongyang and Seoul. Well, he didn't and he won't. And that remained common wisdom until a meeting of the North Koreans with the South Korean unification minister. Let's follow the scenario...
Mssrs Kim and Kim will express Kim Jong il's and the people of North Koreans condolences on Kim Dae Jung's passing, they won't stay more than 36 hours in Seoul, thereby missing the funeral on Sunday 23 August 2009, which Mr. Lee will attend.
It is useful, Guam Dairy thinks, to remember that when Mr. Lee assumed the powers ech Kim Dae Jung initiated in an opening to North Korea, and for which he was awarded the Nobel prize for peace; Mr. Lee furthermore cut off with a stroke of the pen needed fuel oil and fertilizer for Pyongyang's agriculture and the running of its industry, which he wouldn't renew until North Korea would end its nuclear programme, among other demands. He also allowed a campaign of vilification of Kim Jong il, which could have but one outcome, a steady roar of hot lava of rebuke from Pyongyang. In brief, knowingly, Mr. Lee calculatingly restarted a cold war with North Korea, which thrilled the hard liners in the Bush administration, and even skewed the new Obama administration review of US policies towards Pyongyang and roped the new American president to second Mr. Lee's moves towards North Korea.
Therefore in the eyes of North Korea, Mr. Lee has to 'repent' in a meaningful way, which he hasn't. He is at present 'persona non grata'.
It is also instructive to recall Kim Dae Jung's trip to Pyongyang where he and Kim Jong il met at a historic meeting of the North and the South. Mr. Kim was joyously welcomed. And for those familiar with Korean manners and traditions, Kim Jong il show Kim Dae Jung much face as he would an older brother, since the South Korean president was Kim Jong il's elder. This opening won the applause of the Clinton administration, beginning what came to be known as the 'Sunshine Policy', which lasted until Mr. Lee became president in early 2008.
Relaxation of tensions on a divided Korean peninsula, technically still at war, allowed visits of families which divided their members, some remaining in the North, others finding refuge in the South. It permitted the flow of food aid, technical knowledge, and the building of a free trade zone in Kaesong for South Korea's industries, employing mainly North Korean workers.

Suddenly with a which came first the chicken or the egg in the course of events, the two high ranking North Koreans who came to pay homage to the memory of Kim Dae Jung, after a meeting with the South Korean unification ministry, are now willing to extend their visit another day or possibly more. Translation, by staying another 24 hours, they will be on hand to attend the funeral of Kim Dae Jung, and thus South Korea's president Lee will have the face saving excuse of meeting Kim Jong il's representatives.

A meeting with the hard line Lee Myung bak is further proof of a softening of positions, a little? more? a lot?, no one can say for sure. Yet, it heralds a relaxation of tensions, to say the least.

And what about the two senior North Korean diplomats meeting Governor Bill Richardson in Santa Fe? A private initiative? More as though it were a smoke screen as Guam Diary contends. Total silence for the moment on those palabres.

And if all this is not enough, today [22 August 2009], the announcement of a Sino American summit in Beijing in mid November. US president Barack Obama [BHO] will among other agenda items discuss North Korea. Will, as Guam Diary reads the tea leaves at the bottom of his cup, this meeting occasion a quick trip by BHO to Pyongyang? Or a very senior delegation's meeting with him in Beijing? The questions are wide open and multiple as are the variation of the theme.

Now, as a thaw is evident in Pyongyang's dealings with Washington and Seoul, where does this leave Japan, the third eye of the hard line common front refusing to have anything to do with North Korea until Pyongyang has come across on further and more ample information of its kidnapping of Japanese citizens for North Korea's foreign skullduggery. Where is the face saving hook which will allow Tokyo to speak to Pyongyang? And on that hangs an interesting question.

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