Latest threats may mean North Korea wants to talk

28 11 2008

By Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune (November 20, 2008)

dmzSEOUL, South Korea: For 10 years, South Korea has pursued a “sunshine policy” as its master plan for transforming North Korea. Under that banner, South Korea funneled billions of dollars to the North for new factories, hotels and food, and millions of South Korean tourists poured across the border.

But eight months after President Lee Myung-bak came to office here promising a harder approach, the once vaunted policy has unraveled. North Korea has cut off high-level dialogue with the South. It has severed Red Cross-managed telephone “hot lines” crossing the demilitarized zone. In July, a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist visiting its Diamond Mountain resort, leading to its closing.

The North is now threatening to shut down an industrial complex in the North Korean town of Kaesong, the best South Korea had to show for its 10 years of sunshine policy. During an inspection tour earlier this month, a high-ranking North Korean general turned to the South Korean factory owners and asked, “How soon do you think you can pack your gear and go home?”
“Obviously the North Koreans decided that they can sacrifice the sunshine policy and show to everybody in Seoul that they don’t care,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “Meanwhile, we will see spring in the North Korea-U.S. relations.”

Perhaps the greatest current concern about North Korea’s recent moves, Korea experts say, is what they may signal about the internal dynamics of the regime. “The more intriguing issue is whether all these developments signal a growing role of the military,” said Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. “And the tour of Kaesong by the military was troubling in that regard.”

The military is said to detest Kaesong and its capitalistic influence, as well as any deal that would deprive it of nuclear weapons. “It is the conservative mood that prevails in Pyongyang now,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert at Australian National University and a frequent visitor to the North Korean capital.

With all the speculation over the North’s motives, Lankov, of Kookmin University, said, one thing seemed clear. “The decision to close Kaesong is a very big decision that no one in North Korea can make without explicit approval from Kim Jong-il,” he said. “It is an indirect confirmation that he is in control.”

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