Russia lays new tracks in Korean ties, [Mar 5] is long on hope and light on history. Professor Petrov is right to look forward to the day when South and North Korea’s railroads will hook up with Russia’s Trans-Siberian railroad which will transport goods and no doubt passengers toward Central Asia and the European Union. Such a network makes good won and rubles and sense; it would hasten economic development and foster good neighborly relations. Which goes without saying. Yet, the triangulation of Pyongyang and Seoul and Moscow turns on good relations between all three capitals. Seoul and Pyongyang may welcome Russian aid, commerce, military hardware, and perhaps advice, the same cannot be said with a new president in Seoul’s Blue House who wants to talk tough with North Korea and pull tighter the South Korean purse strings of generosity which the Sunshine Policy fostered. On the other hand, Petrov speaks of the benefits of Russia’s electricity to North Korea especially. Yet, he neglects to say that the North’s infrastructure which the Soviet Union helped build is in an extremely poor state. It electric power stations are old and in disrepair. Petrov does not talk of Leonid Breznov’s promise to Kim Il-sung of upgrading this system and building light water nuclear reactors to hasten Pyongyang’s modernization. Moscow reneged on its promise. President Clinton also promised North Korea light water reactors as a consequence of former president Jimmy Carter’s brokered deal with Kim Il-sung which calmed Washington’s war fever. Bill Clinton, too, did not live up to his word, nor did his successor George W Bush who inherited Clinton’s Korea policy when he was sworn into office and began radically changing it. In consequence, Petrov’s optimism does not bear out in today’s reality.
USA (Mar 5, ’08)
Russia is key to North Korea’s plight [July 24] deserves attentive reading for what it says and for what it does not say. Dr Leonid Petrov has brushed a quick overview of the role energy-rich and cash-flush Russia can play in North Korea. In historical terms, it is retroactive and is clearcut in ambiguous historical imponderables. And although Moscow can furnish Pyongyang with electrical power and much needed oil and gas, the reader has no notion as to the abject state of North Korea’s infrastructure. Its power stations with Soviet-made equipment, for example, are either in disrepair, rusted or simply not up to the task of furnishing North Korea with the electricity that it needs for economic revival. Pyongyang has a long memory of slights; it cannot nor won’t forget that the Soviet Union had reneged on a promise to Kim Il-sung of furnishing it with light water nuclear reactors in order to modernize its energy needs. It will not, however, spurn Russian aid but it will bargain as hard as it has done with the US on the question of outstanding debt and on favorable terms for Moscow’s energy resources. It does remember feeling abandoned by [former Soviet premier Mikhail] Gorbachev even before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then we have to consider that Moscow has not taken a hands-on role in the six-party talks in Beijing. So, in order to regain Kim Jong-il’s trust, it has to come up with an aid package which speaks to North Korea’s economic and political realities. The feeling that Russia is the key exhibits a disconnect between yesterday’s historical consciousness and today’s North Korea realities
Singapore (Jul 24, ’08)
In Australian eggs for a Korean ‘basket case’?, [May 16] Dr Leonid Petrov gives voice to peripatetic Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s foreign policy philosophy. Reaffirmation of the US-Australian alliance and strong membership in the UN are traditional goals. What captures our attention is Canberra’s “comprehensive engagement in Asia”. Australia has reversed rudders in the last half-century, not so much repudiating its European heritage, but also for its embracing of an Asian identity. This is no clearer than in its relationship with China whose appetite for Australia’s raw materials has spurred good economic growth while at the same time has brought Australia into Beijing’s sphere of influence. And now, as Petrov suggests, Mr Rudd may see an opportunity for expanding relations with North Korea, which is on the verge of a renewed outbreak of famine; he can seize this opportunity through the export of wheat and injections of capital with a view of helping to modernize North Korea’s infrastructure. Although such initiatives might run counter to Canberra’s conservative standpoint on Pyongyang, they would very much allow Australia to play a more nuanced role as an Asian power, and win respect as a voice of patience and moderation with an American ally whose roller coaster diplomacy with North Korea has delayed opportunities for a rapprochement between two Cold Warriors.
Guam (May 16, ’08)