Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gaming North Korea

In the wake of the sinking of the ROK [Republic of Korea aka South Korea] naval corvettethe 'Cheonan' in South Korea waters in the disputed offshore zone close to Seoul's Baengnyeong island, the press, western and South Korean, have pushed the envelope of blame wishing that the evil hand behind the disaster, belong to the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea].
Yet the jury remains out on the sinking. Even the fiercely anti DPRK South Korean president Lee Myung bek has called for caution. He won't rush to judgment until a full and thorough investigation of the ship's hulk, retrieved from the sea, is complete. He vows then a strong response.
These contested waters are full of mines and torpedo[e]s from the Korean war and perhaps from the days of the war against Japan. Mines have a way of floating free and buried torpedo[e]s surface unexpectedly. Which brings us to the reason why the ROK president is loathe to pin the blame on the DPRK. It may turn out that the mine which tore the 'Cheonon' is South Korean.
Saying this, the gassy commentaries continue in the press offering up scenarios on the devious North Korea's avenging the bloodied naval spat in November 2009 with the ROK navy; the damaged DPRK vessels limped home with its dead; the ROK suffered no casulties. Thus the logic follows as a stroke of vengeance by torpedo.
The British North Korean watch Aidan Foster Carter has put his two pennies of speculation into the fray: Pyongyang did it.
'The New York Times' with its correspondent in Seoul's article, dug up a picture of a Japanese torpedo from the Second World War. The reader has little choice to infer that the DPRK has a reserve arsenal of Japanes weapons which it used to sink the ROK corvette. And then the story disappears. It either served its purpose or it made long fire.
Then another story appeared in the 'grey old lady' of US journalism, on breaking the bamboo curtain so tightly drawn in the North. Broadcasts by North Korean defectors living in South Korea, who broadcast to the citizens in the DPRK who've not chosen freedom in the ROK. How effective are these broadcasts? If the more than half century of broadcasts by the US CIA funded 'Radio Liberty' and 'Radio Free Europe' are a guide, very little. Nor have the evangelical Christian crusaders propaganda to reclaim Pyongyang again as the once second Jerusalem of Korea, worked well.
And now the mysterious successor to Kim Jong il, his youngest son Kim Jong un, according to a South Korea researcher, has been identified by his father's side in one of the endless 'inspections' Kim Jong il makes to take the pulse of what's happening in his own country. Something the North Korean watchers tend to pooh pooh at their own peril, which in many cases lead them astray in their assessments as to what's happening in the North.
On the other hand, we find photos of empty 'free markets' in the DPRK since the disasterous currency reform in November 2009. Yet markets do flourish dispute the rescinded North Korean won revaluation.
The graduate student and North Korean watcher Curtis Milton has a wonderful website, using Google maps, which is studded with very valuable data about the so called opaque DPRK. His website for all to see, is an example of citizen journalism which captures images of interest not only to outsiders but you would think to North Korean officials themselves.
Milton's data make us wonder as to the value of some western and South Korean commentators, who peddle a line of rotting fish about North Korea.
And now the 'prestigious' US government vetted New York Korea Society is sponsoring a closed meeting on 'weighing Korean options after the Cheonan sinking', in the last Tuesday of April 2010.
The panel is composed of the usual suspects: former US ambassador Thomas Hubbard, newly named CEO of the Korea Society; the outgoing president and former senior State Department officier, Evans Revere; John Delury associate director of the centre on US Chian relations; and David Strau, director of Korean studies and Shorenstein APARC [Shorestein Asia Pacific Research Centre] at Stanford, and former State Department officier. [Nota bene: since the panel is dealing with Korean options, no Korean from the ROK and DPRK are invited guests.] Are we to infer that this initiative is either an exercise of US arrogance or a goodwill gesture?
Will the guests make off guarded remarks only for the ears of the select few on Korea Society's A list of bankers, think tankers, former heavy hitters of the American government? Korea Society makes the caveat that an audio podcast will be made available after the meeting. But you can be assured, it will be heavily 'blue pencilled'!
And rest assured, the 'high powered panel' will speak for the two Koreas!
So as the old comic Jimmy Durante used to say, 'everyone's trying to bus into the act!' And the DPRK case is left unheard.
To be fare, Pyongyang waited a good 21 days before issuing a denial of anything to do with the 'Cheonan' sinking. It waited until the hulk was lifted from the sea. And then, silence.
As noted above, the jury is out on the sinking. That, however, has not stopped the tongues of blame and speculation, from wagging.
Gaming North Korea we say. Why? It is eays to blame the DPRK for a multitude of sins. A recent article in the 'Asia Pacific Journal' by the Russian academician and director of the Korean programme at the Institute of Economy at Russia's Academy of Science, calls for patience and discussions with the DPRK. The US and South Korea have engaged too long in vituperation and threats and much arm twisting have proven less than effective. China counsels Washington to patience, but wiser heads think otherwise, and we know the stalemate that has led to.
For the US and ROK buying time is the name of the game. It is a twist on the old drip drip know if the water drips long and over time on a rock, it will wear a hole in it. But they are too optimistic since this strategy has not worked well, and if you look at from another standpoint, it is Washington and Seoul who give or gave in. Time is also on the DPRK's side, too.
After the death of Kim Il Sung and the great famine of the 1990's, eventhe Clinton administration which opened talks with North Korea--and in no small measure to the good offices of Jimmy Carter and Kim Il Sung--bankrolled its strategy on the collapse of the DPRK. It didn't happen. George W. Bush thought by rubbing Kim Jong il's nose in righteousness and playing hardball, the DPRK would cave in. That, too, didn't work. Bush had to back peddle the more especially since his policy turned North Korea into a nuclear power. And now under Barack Obama, the standoff remains. Bluster and posturing and nothing getting down.
South Korea's Lee Myung bek thought himself clever by half: he scotched the 'Sunshine Policy', cut off fertilizer deliveries, and food aid, thinking he could stave the DPRK into submission. Wrong!
You would have thought with the 'best and brightest' in the US and ROK, something would have worked. Wrong. Ultimately instead of 'gaming North Korea', everyone has to sit down and discuss the issues, and that means a peace treaty, diplomatic recognition, a modus vivendi on the nuclear issue, and positive moves towards stablising peace in northeast Asia. Otherwise, it's business as usual which has not proven small beer!

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