Rowan Callick (The Australian November 25, 2010) …Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says: “We have taken note of the relevant reports and we express concern for the situation. We hope that the relevant parties will contribute their share to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”
Thus the US, the country that Pyongyang most wishes to provoke into dealing with it directly, and China, North Korea’s sole surviving ally and chief supplier of oil and other strategic resources, both appear to be running on empty except of hope. Victor Cha, a former US national security official, said shortly before the latest attack began, that North Korea is “the land of lousy options”, for all involved.
Only three years ago, the world was largely ranged behind South Korea’s Sunshine Diplomacy towards its northern cousins. But president Roh Moo-hyun’s party disintegrated and, 18 months ago, he leaped to his death from a hill behind his home.
His phlegmatic successor Lee has taken a more pragmatic line on the north, behind which his country is now mostly ranged. He abandoned the Sunshine Diplomacy, which despite its good intentions developed into a pattern that rewarded Pyongyang every time it acted aggressively and then held back, awaiting the resulting material supplies and loosening of controls.
Leonid Petrov, lecturer in Korean studies at the University of Sydney, tells The Australian: “The worst-case scenario is that one [more] such skirmish may easily lead to the bombing of Seoul, the centre of many international economic and political interests.
“The response of South Korea would be supplemented by US involvement, which would open the door to China’s involvement, turning this conflict into a regional war – though not into World War III – a particularly bleak silver lining in this Korea expert’s scenario.
“The best option for both Koreas would be to end the Korean War [1950-1953] by signing the peace treaty and peacefully coexisting. The possibility of this scenario was demonstrated by the 10 years of Sunshine Policy pursued by the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments of South Korea,” Petrov says.
“The immediate result of this would be to make the US presence in the region, in both South Korea and Japan, redundant. China and Russia would welcome such a development, but Japan and Taiwan might not.”
He says that limited skirmishes and provocations justify the strengthening of the South Korea-US alliance “as well as being useful for the North Korean regime, which thus consolidates its grip on the population and weakens the drive for economic reform”.
In recent years there has been some discussion about creating a nuclear weapons free zone in Northeast Asia, as has already been agreed in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Pacific islands, and Central Asia.
But the likelihood of putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle, and persuading North Korea to abandon its prestige possession, appears remote…