Alexander Downer’s advice to Bush on N.Korea: “starve them”

22 12 2010

By Philip Dorling (The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Dec. 2010)

THE Howard government urged the United States to force the collapse of the North Korean regime by denying it aid, despite advice that the country had a growing nuclear arsenal and could unleash an artillery barrage on South Korea’s capital at a moment’s notice.

”Let the whole place go to shit, that’s the best thing that could happen,” the foreign affairs minister, Alexander Downer, told the commander of US and United Nations forces in South Korea at a meeting in Canberra in 2005.

A leaked US embassy cable reports that Mr Downer told General Leon LaPorte that the outside world should sharply increase pressure on North Korea, suggesting that ”aid that could prop up [North Korea’s] failing infrastructure should be withheld to bring an end to the regime’s tyranny”.
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The cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available exclusively to the Herald, says Mr Downer’s ”off-the-top of his head” remarks also derided New Zealand’s approach to the Korean problem.

”If US officials wanted to hear the ‘bleeding hearts’ view of ‘peace and love’ with respect to North Korea, Downer joked, they only had to visit his colleagues in New Zealand. Mr Downer said he personally agreed with George Bush that tyranny had to be ended,” the cable says.

Mr Downer met General LaPorte on February 16, 2005, against the backdrop of moves to reduce US military forces in South Korea and the protracted diplomatic stalemate over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions…

…The cable goes on to record Mr Downer’s view that the outside world should sharply increase pressure on North Korea, indeed suggesting that ”aid that could prop up [North Korea’s] failing infrastructure should be withheld in order to bring an end to the regime’s tyranny”.

Reflecting on his own visit to Pyongyang in 2000, Mr Downer described the North Korean capital as ”pathetic”, with its ”darkened streets, cracked pavements and unmowed grass.”

Mr Downer added that ”speaking off the top of his head … aid should not be given that would prop up the [North Korean] infrastructure”. The US embassy had no comment on Mr Downer’s views.

See the full text of this article here…

South Korea started live-fire drill on shelled island

21 12 2010

By Tania Branigan (The Guardian, 16 Dec. 2010)

The manoeuvres would take place between Saturday and Tuesday, the joint chief of staffs said. A source said they would last one day. Dr Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert at the University of Sydney, warned that the move could inflame tensions on the peninsular. “It is appalling. If it was a bona fide need for artillery practice they have plenty of islands in the Western sea,” he said.

“This is simply sending a message that the South is putting pressure on the North – but at the same time refuses to negotiate.” He said South Korean society was too complacent about the danger of war. “Seoul is so vulnerable and so close to the demilitarised zone [that divides the peninsula] and the infrastructure is so fragile.” Petrov argued that North Korea’s recovery from the famine of the 90s and the advances in its nuclear technology had made it more confident.

Professor Han Seung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, said South Korea’s military needed to show their defence capabilities. “I don’t think this is meant to be provocative,” he said. “If North Korea are looking for an excuse like they did before, they will use any kind of excuse.”

The military stand-off comes amid growing concern about North Korea’s nuclear programme. Recent reports have suggested the country may have built more plants to enrich uranium and a South Korean newspaper reported yesterday that there were signs it might be preparing to test a third nuclear device next spring.

North Korea’s foreign ministry said today that it supported dialogue to defuse tensions and denuclearise the Korean peninsula but would never beg for it, Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported. It reiterated that its uranium enrichment programme was for peaceful purposes. The North wants the resumption of the stalled six-party aid-for-denuclearisation talks, but is unlikely to accept the preconditions demanded by the US, South Korea and Japan, who want a concrete commitment to denuclearisation.

“When they call me they always want to send a message of some kind,” said Richardson, New Mexico governor and a former UN ambassador, as he stopped in Beijing en route to Pyongyang. “My hope is that they provide messages that will lower tensions on the Korean peninsula. My message to them will be: we need peace, we need to stop some of these aggressive actions, especially with respect to South Korea”…

See the full text of this article here…

Inside the Red Box: North Korea’s Post-totalitarian Politics

11 12 2010

by Patrick McEachern
December, 2010
Cloth, 320 pages, 6 halftones, 3 tables
ISBN: 978-0-231-15322-5
$35.00 / £24.00

North Korea’s institutional politics defy traditional political models, making the country’s actions seem surprising or confusing when, in fact, they often conform to the regime’s own logic. Drawing on recent materials, such as North Korean speeches, commentaries, and articles, Patrick McEachern, a specialist on North Korean affairs, reveals how the state’s political institutions debate policy and inform and execute strategic-level decisions.

Many scholars dismiss Kim Jong-Il’s regime as a “one-man dictatorship,” calling him the “last totalitarian leader,” but McEachern identifies three major institutions that help maintain regime continuity: the cabinet, the military, and the party. These groups hold different institutional policy platforms and debate high-level policy options both before and after Kim and his senior leadership make their final call.

This method of rule may challenge expectations, but North Korea does not follow a classically totalitarian, personalistic, or corporatist model. Rather than being monolithic, McEachern argues, the regime, emerging from the crises of the 1990s, rules differently today than it did under Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung. The son is less powerful and pits institutions against one another in a strategy of divide and rule. His leadership is fundamentally different: it is “post-totalitarian.” Authority may be centralized, but power remains diffuse. McEachern maps this process in great detail, supplying vital perspective on North Korea’s reactive policy choices, which continue to bewilder the West., reviewing a previous edition or volume

*Patrick McEachern is a foreign service officer in Seoul supporting the Six Party Talks and a former North Korea analyst with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. His publications have appeared in Asian Survey, Journal of East Asian Studies, and Korea Yearbook.

Praise for Inside the Red Box

“Working from North Korean media, Patrick McEachern shows that, whatever might have been the case under Kim Il Sung, North Korea under his son, Kim Jong Il, is not the unknowable and irrational totalitarian state presented by many commentators. Since the elder Kim’s death in 1994, the country’s political structure has evolved. The younger Kim is undoubtedly powerful but has neither his father’s revolutionary credentials nor his personal charisma and does not always succeed in imposing his views. It is these policy debates that lie behind the apparent abrupt swings from engagement to non-engagement, not some inherent irrationality in the North Korean polity, and it pays to study them. This stimulating and well-written book does just that. It should be required reading for all those interested in or involved with North Korea.”—J. E. Hoare, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and coauthor of North Korea in the Twenty-First Century.

“It is conventional wisdom that information on North Korea is hard to come by, but in fact, the opposite is true. Most researchers quickly find themselves drowning in information, and the real challenge is to make sense of the deluge of data and separate the wheat from the chaff. Patrick McEachern rejects easy routes and embraces the project of using sound social science methodologies to examine a mountain of primary sources. The result of his painstaking analysis is the illumination of domestic politics in Pyongyang—opening up the “red box.” While McEachern’s findings can be disputed, they cannot be ignored—this book is a must read for any serious student of North Korea.”—Andrew Scobell, Senior Political Scientist, RAND Corporation

“Inside the Red Box is a nuanced and meticulous study of the inner workings of North Korea’s policy apparatus. It is a very useful addition to the literature, saying more about what happens inside the black box (or red box) beyond standard accounts and the personality cult of the Kim family.”—Victor D. Cha, coauthor of Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies

How should S.Korea respond to North?

9 12 2010

By Sunny Lee (The Kortea Times, 07 Dec. 2010)

BEIJING — The volatile inter-Korean situation warrants the two countries establishing a means of communication to prevent miscalculations, and the longer the tensions persist the bigger the potential for these, said John Swenson-Wright of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a think tank on international affairs in the United Kingdom, commonly known as “Chatham House.”

In the aftermath of North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea is seen to be moving as others would expect in such a situation; it’s becoming increasingly hardline against its intractable northern neighbor and ramping up its military deterrent. Vowing stern retaliation, new Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said he would order an air strike against the North if it attacked with artillery again.

But the British security expert, who also teaches at Cambridge University, advised South Korea to reconsider the common wisdom. “While deterrence needs to be strong, diplomacy also needs a second chance,” said Swenson-Wright. Swenson-Wright knows that his advice might be unpopular in South Korea, given that the nation is still reeling from North Korea’s artillery barrage of Yeonpyeong, amid the public’s demand that the government get tougher on North Korea.

His advice would be politically risky in South Korea’s domestic politics too as leaders rely on popular votes. A survey conducted by Hankook Research, two weeks before the Yeonpyeong attack, found 31.9 percent of respondents said they think the North is their enemy, which is a steep increase compared to five years ago when only 15.3 percent of respondents said so. In the aftermath of the Yeonpyeong incident, now even more South Koreans are likely to think so.

Even President Lee Myung-bak, who was seen trying to contain the situation by ordering the military “to make an effort not to escalate the situation,” last week frustratingly said to the public, to the effect, that he now sees little use in engaging North Korea. “(I) now have come to realize that it’s no longer sensible to expect North Korea to give up its military adventurism and nuclear weapons,” Lee said. His statement was widely seen as a “turning point” by Lee to ditch diplomacy and instead apply more sanctions and pressure against the North.

Swenson-Wright is careful not to underestimate such sentiment in South Korea. “I appreciate it’s politically difficult for President Lee to say we should open a dialogue with North Korea,” he said. Given Pyongyang’s actions, offering dialogue also risks giving the appearance of rewarding the communist country for bad behavior, which Seoul wants to avoid at all costs. But the volatile situation warrants diplomacy more than at any other time and South Korea could use, if needed, “under the table” diplomacy to manage the crisis, which doesn’t have to be dictated by public sentiment, said Swenson-Wright. “The door can be open, but it doesn’t have to be public.”

President Lee’s popularity has dropped since the Yeonpyeong attack to just barely over 40 percent as people were disappointed with the way his government handled the crisis. His critics said Lee was “not tough enough” against the North’s belligerence. Swenson-Wright’s analysis is different from how Lee’s domestic critics see things in South Korea. “I wonder what those critics are actually arguing for, beyond what’s been done so far. It would be difficult to imagine what further steps taken that would have been more effective in terms of sending signals to North Korea without materially and substantially increasing the risks involved. So, I don’t share the criticism. “It’s very important that the rhetoric used by the President itself doesn’t contribute to the escalation of tension,” said Swenson-Wright.

In the same vein, he doesn’t agree with former South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, who stepped down amid controversy over how the military responded to the North’s attack. Kim called for the reintroduction of tactical nuclear weapons into South Korea. “Such a statement, while understandable in terms of showing off South Korea’s military capabilities, is unhelpful as it can potentially escalate the tension,” said Swenson-Wright. “We need to avoid that sort of language. The president needs to be very careful to balance any willingness to talk in terms of military action with some language that can hint or suggest the possibility of resumption of dialogue.”

Essentially, the British security expert believes that South Korea should do everything possible to reinforce deterrence, but at the same time, it should also pursue every possible channel to have a venue for dialogue with North Korea to prevent the political rhetoric on both sides from leading to miscalculations at this emotionally volatile time. South Koreans, who have been familiar with various North Korean provocations since the 1950-53 Korean War, tend to downplay the inter-Korean tension as “business as usual.”

But outside analysts see the current situation on the Korean Peninsula as one of the most volatile since the war. A Chinese analyst, Jin Jingyi, compared the recent frequent inter-Korean disputes to the period in 1949 when both Koreas engaged in frequent arms conflicts across the border, which led to a full-scale war the following year. A Russian analyst, Leonid Petrov, sees the current situation as a hardline North Korean government colliding with a hardline South Korea.

Swenson-Wright believes Seoul needs to be creative in trying to find a way to soothe the populist pressure and at the same time find a mechanism to engage Pyongyang for an emergency inter-Korean consultation. “Not engaging North Korea limits the very options available,” he concluded.

Korean conflict: Could it escalate?

East Asia Forum (8 Dec.2010).

Evan Feigenbaum (Adjunct Senior Fellow for East, Central, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations) suspect Seoul will seek to preserve a ladder of escalation in its future responses to North Korean actions: (1) firing at North Korean vessels offshore, as in the past; (2) discrete and limited counterbattery responses to specific sources of North Korean artillery fire; and (3) weighing a wider counterbattery target package only in extremis…

Mongolia passed North Korea’s message to U.S.

7 12 2010

(Mongolia-Web, 03 December 2010) North Korea attempted to reach out to the United States through Mongolia in 2009, suggesting that the Mongolians host disarmament talks between Washington and Pyongyang, American diplomats reported in a document obtained by the website WikiLeaks.

A Mongolian diplomat passed that information to the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar after an August 2009 meeting with Mr. Kim Yong Il, North Korea’s vice foreign minister, a leaked embassy cable recounts. “There are no eternal enemies in this world,” the Mongolian official quoted Mr. Kim as saying.

“VFM Kim said the DPRK is spending too much on weapons rather than on its children, but that the current reality dictates that they cannot get away from weapons for now,” the cable states, using shorthand for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Kim said the DPRK is not a threat and was only interested in self-protection.”

The Mongolian diplomat who recounted the meeting described it as “notable” since the North Koreans “did not read from a prepared script, they were not aggressive and made no criticism of the United States, and they criticized China and Russia ‘three or four times’ for supporting recent U.N. resolutions aimed at the DPRK,” the cable states.

The North Koreans repeated their insistence that they would not return to the six-party regional talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, according to the document. As they had in the past, they indicated that they wanted to discuss disarmament and the normalization of relations with Washington in one-on-one talks, which an embassy official suggested could be held in Mongolia, according to the Mongolian diplomat.

The cable quotes Mr. Kim as saying that former President Clinton’s visit to North Korea “has greatly improved the prospects for such talks”. Mr. Clinton had gone to Pyongyang a week earlier to retrieve two American journalists held on charges of entering the country illegally.

Mythmaking is a long-time specialty of Pyongyang-watchers

7 12 2010

by MARK MacKINNON (Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Dec. 04, 2010)

“There’s wistfulness in the young man’s eyes, a longing for home as he walks purposefully along the edge of a lake that looks to be somewhere in Central Europe. But he doesn’t dress like the locals. Even thousands of kilometres away from the place of his birth, the young man proudly wears a collarless grey Mao suit and military-style greatcoat, the favoured attire of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. The young man in the portrait – which was photographed hanging in a museum by a sharp-eyed Canadian tourist to North Korea – bears a striking resemblance to Kim Jong-un, the twenty-something youngest son of Kim Jong-il and the recently named heir to power in the Hermit Kingdom…

…If it is him, and a majority of the experts consulted by The Globe and Mail believe that it is, the portrait marks the first glimpse anyone outside North Korea has had of how the regime will sell Kim Jong-un to a people conditioned to believe his father is their infallible Dear Leader and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, an immortal who remains president despite his death in 1994. It would be laughable, perhaps, if the new propaganda campaign weren’t accompanied by new military recklessness – including last month’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island – intended to give Kim Jong-un, already praised as “the Young General,” victories to claim as his own.

Out of half a dozen North Korea scholars who were sent a copy of the portrait, only one [Andrei Lankov] disagreed that the subject was likely Kim Jong-un. The other experts saw it as the launch of a massive propaganda campaign that will attempt to portray the heir apparent as having been sent abroad to learn foreign ways and technologies, while always keeping North Korea and its people in his heart. Several who saw the portrait noted the physical resemblance (though the heir apparent is much flabbier in recent television footage), as well as a background that looks to be Interlaken, Switzerland, where Kim Jong-un is known to have spent time while studying at the International School of Berne in the late 1990s.

“It’s big news,” said Brian Myers, an expert on North Korea at Dongseo University in South Korea. “It’s hard to be completely certain on the basis of an untitled image alone. … But I cannot imagine a schoolboy outside the Kim family meriting this kind of painting, and it is very similar in mood and layout to depictions of the young Kim Il-sung and the young Kim Jong-il. So I would assume that it is Kim Jong-un although it is not a particularly striking likeness in view of the Kim Jong-un we have seen photographed in the past few months”…

…The portrait appears to be the start of an effort to turn that potential liability into in asset. “It goes to the heart of what will be the regime’s main problem in glorifying the boy, namely the fact that he was overseas during at least part of the famine or [so-called] Arduous March. The regime is for some reason loath to let foreigners see this nascent personality cult,” Prof. Myers said. “We have seen footage of [Kim Jong-un], and of course we can see him on the TV news every few days … but we know next to nothing about how the regime is articulating his biography. This painting offers important insight into what kind of mythobiography the regime is either planning or is already teaching the masses in party meetings, study meetings etc. outside the view of foreign visitors.” He noted that the young man in the painting was gazing at the sun rising in the east, another suggestion that North Korea consumed his thoughts, even while he was far from home…

“It will start with pictures likes this, TV documentaries, poems and some writings and then, the next breakthrough point, he’ll appear on a lapel badge with his dad we assume,” said Paul French, author of North Korea: the Paranoid Peninsula, referring to the lapel pins of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il that all North Koreans are forced to wear. Mr. French said it was surprising the regime has decided to deal head on with Kim Jong-un’s foreign education. “The next great theorizer of Juche theory strides out to soak up foreign culture for the good of the people,” he joked after viewing an e-mailed copy of the portrait. “Of course, I doubt very much if he strolled around Switzerland dressed quite so revolutionary, though the coat and hat are reminiscent of the 2009 Banana Republic collection.”

There is, however, some debate among Pyongyang-watchers over whether the picture is important. Andrei Lankov, a respected North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, scoffed at the notion that this was the new boy’s coming-out portrait. “This is his grandfather. Generalissimo Kim Il-sung. The background and school uniform leaves no doubt about it: the late 1920s,” Prof. Lankov wrote in an e-mail after seeing a copy of the portrait. Kim Jong-un’s likeness to a young Kim Il-sung is uncanny to the point that some have speculated Kim Jong-un may have undergone plastic surgery to accentuate the similarities and cement the link between himself and his supposedly immortal grandfather. Prof. Lankov also said the houses in the painting’s background looked more like traditional Korean homes than anywhere in Switzerland.

However, that opinion is, thus far, a minority one among those who have viewed the portrait. Mr. Toop, for one, said he knew he was looking at something different as soon as he laid eyes on the picture on the wall of Rajin Art Gallery. Tourists in North Korea are shown hundreds of portraits, busts and statues of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung over the course of their stay, so it’s unsurprising that something new would jump out after several days in the country. “I identified the portrait as Kim Jong-un when I first saw it,” the 54-year-old Mr. Toop said. “To my knowledge, neither Kim Il-sung nor Kim Jong-il can be situated in a Western backdrop like this at any time in their youth.”

See the full text of this article here…

Opinions of Real Experts

Koen De Ceuster: “This is not Kim Jong Un and all the pundits that think they have struck gold with this have only proven how much they like to believe in their own stories. I was shown, through another source, the same painting and did a close analysis. First of all, the painting is dated 2001. Secondly, why does no one catch the badge on the cap? Though not legible, clearly Chinese.

Finally, in the left top corner, a Chinese-style entrance to a compound can be seen. In fact, if anything, this is probably Kim Il Sung in front of a Catholic church in Jilin City. This is certainly speculative, but given Kim Jong Il’s visit to a Catholic church in that city during his last visit to Manchuria late August 2010, and the reference he made to the fact that his father had found sanctuary there once, this may well be what is depicted here. In any case, definitely not Kim Jong Un.

What I find fascinating is how “we” are all excited about the fact that Kim Jong Un spent some semesters in Switzerland, but fail to wonder whether this is also newsworthy in North Korea! Given that I have never seen any reference to the fact that Kim Jong Il spent a year in Malta, I very much doubt his passage to Switzerland will ever be part of the North Korean myth building. All the more so of our myth building, as it turns out.

When Kim Jong Il went to Manchuria, the intention was clear: it was a pilgrimage along revolutionary sites. The church must feature as a revolutionary site for the North Koreans, otherwise he would not have visited. By clicking on to the photo of the young Kim Il Sung, it is obvious that that is the same badge in the painting (the bottom of the character/s is visible in the painting, as it is in the photo: ). Knowing Korean practices, chances are that this photo was used by the painter for inspiration. Anyone familiar with genre paintings in North Korea knows there is a story in the painting. That means that clues are hidden in the painting to make it understandable/legible to a North Korean viewer.”

*Dr. Koen De Ceuster – lecturer at Leiden University, Institute for Area Studies (LIAS)

If it were real, what would the painting tell us?

by By Ruediger Frank (38 North)

…According to the official mythology around the top leaders, in 1925 Kim Il Sung—at that time still called by his real name Kim Song Ju—left his home country at the tender age of 13 for Manchuria. He did so promising to return only after he had liberated his then occupied country from Japanese colonial oppression (picture 2).

This is one of the key moments of North Korean propaganda and the starting point for the Kim Il Sung myth. Kim Il Sung expressed his feelings in his official autobiography: “While singing, I wondered if would ever feel our land again, when would I be returning to the land of my forefathers. I felt sad and determined. I swore that I shall never return until Korea was freed.”

Not being on the peninsula represents an almost unbearable pain for any good Korean patriot. In that sense, living abroad is a major self-sacrifice; at least it will be depicted as such. Self sacrifice is a recurring theme of the cult not only of Kim Il Sung’s first wife Kim Jong Suk, but also around Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as reflected in numerous stories and paintings of long working hours, restless travel around the country, caring about every little detail, sharing their simple food with the soldiers, sleeping on the floor in a peasant’s cabin and so forth. Therefore, we have reason to believe that Kim Jong Un’s exile will either be negated, or displayed as a period of deliberately endured hardship in order to study the enemy…

…The dating of the painting does not provide a clear answer either. On the contrary, it raises a number of questions. It is dated February 16, 2001. If this is correct, we can almost exclude that the man on the painting is Kim Jong Un because even if the decision to promote him to become the next leader of North Korea was made around 2005, it would still have been painted too early. However, this is, again, not the final answer. Those of us dealing with art and propaganda of North Korea know that documents and paintings have frequently been backdated in order to make new policies look less like changes. Prominent examples include songun (“military first”) and juche, North Korea’s doctrine of self-reliance. We can therefore realistically expect that Kim Jong Un’s history will be backdated at some point…

…You see why it is so tempting to brush all doubts aside and treat the painting as being one of Kim Jong Un. However, it most likely is not. Similar paintings of Kim Il Sung have existed since at least the 1980s; the background is most likely Jilin, China in the 1930s, and the idea of starting the Kim Jong Un cult in Rajin and with his European exile is too far-fetched. I suggest we use this example both as an etude in the anecdote-based Pyongyangology, and as a warning of how easy it can be to derive far-reaching conclusions from questionable evidence. Do we need culture-specific expertise? Obviously, we do. Otherwise, we risk basing policy decisions on a hoax…

*Ruediger Frank – professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna.

Osaka black mark in Kim’s life?


OSAKA–Without fail, North Korea’s propaganda machine deifies any location associated with the Kim dynasty, but the birthplace of the mother of future leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to be accorded such reverence. In any event, the sad history of her family in Osaka is hardly the stuff of legend. Specifically, Ko Young Hee came from Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district, an area that for decades has had a thriving Korean community.

According to a resident of the neighborhood, someone linked with North Korea recently came to check on the site of her birthplace, long an empty lot. Kim Jong Un is the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the grandson of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. In September, Kim Jong Un was anointed heir apparent. His mother was born in June 1953, a month before a cease-fire agreement was reached in the Korean War. Her father was called Ko Tae Mun. He was born in 1920 in Jeju island when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s colonial rule. Ko Tae Mun came to Japan when he was 13 to join his father…

…A former high-ranking Chongryon official said a legend about Kim Jong Un could be created along the following story line: “Ko Tae Mun carried on the will of Jeju islanders who fought bravely under the guidance of Kim Il Sung. After fleeing to Japan, he returned to North Korea to be embraced by the greatness of Kim. Ko gave up his life to serve as a soldier for Kim. Kim Jong Un would be an individual who carried on the great revolutionary bloodline from Jeju.” Tsuruhashi would have no place within that legend…

See the full text of this article here…

How will tensions be across the peninsula?

4 12 2010

On 3 Dec., Leonid Petrov gave interview to CNBC’s “Straight Talk with Bernie Lo” program,  answering question on the tensions around the Korean peninsula.

BL: Dr. Leonid Petrov, please give us a review of what’s been going on since North Korea fired upon South Korea last week.

LP:  Tensions are heightening in the area around Yeonpyeong Island, with the confirmation that North Korean forces deployed 122 mm multi-launch rocket systems (Russian-made GRAD) in an inland area near Kaemori to a coastal location facing the island, and opened additional 76.2 mm (Russian-made ЗИС-3) naval artillery firing ports in addition to the previous 14 locations.
The North Korean military was also reported to have stepped up its anti-air posture, targeting aerial activity by South Korean fighter planes flying in the area near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), with the forward deployment of SA-2 earth-to-air missiles in the area north of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands. It was also confirmed that the North Korean military positioned anti-ship missiles on a launch pad in the area around Tungsangot in Hwanghae Province, near the NLL.

South Korea’s military plans to conduct large-scale artillery firing drills in seas around the Korean Peninsula, including waters close to the Yellow/West Sea border, between 6-12 Dec., will beef up its defence readiness posture against North Korea. An advisory was issued to local vessels planning to navigate around 29 locations in waters around the peninsula.

The 29 locations include 16 in the Yellow/West Sea but do not include waters close to Yeonpyeong Island where the deadly shelling took the lives of four South Koreans. Instead, Daecheong Island, close to Baengnyeong Island where the South Korean corvette Cheonan was sank last March, was included. The ROK navy plans to conduct firing exercises in waters southwest of Daecheong Island. Next week’s naval firing drills are expected to further increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

BL: How have international ties been affected  in terms of China, the US and Japan’s reaction to the shelling? Should the world be looking at China to play peacekeeper ?

LP: China does act consistently as a peacemaker, sending its envoys simultaneously to Seoul and Pyongyang. Beijing has proposed that chief negotiators in the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament hold an emergency meeting early this month to discuss ways of easing tensions. But South Korea and Japan have refused to talk. The US remains non-committal. Only Russia has supported China’s proposal to hold the emergency talks.

Top legislators from China and North Korea held talks in Beijing, where Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of Chinese National People’s Congress, and Choe Thae-bok, Secretary of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party, met on Wednesday. China said it does not seek to protect any side in the crisis and urged against acts that may inflame regional tensions. But China’s efforts to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been unfairly rebuked by both sides of the conflict. The United States also views China’s lukewarm response to North Korea’s actions with puzzlement and disappointment.

BL: What do you think will go on from here on? How will tensions be across the peninsula?

LP: Much will depend of the position of US government, the strategic allay of South Korea. The Obama administration must put more pressure on Lee Myungbak’s government to stop its provocative actions in the disputed waters and along the DMZ and be more open to diplomatic solutions to the problem. Seoul should talk to Pyongyang, while Washington must discuss paths for conflict resolution with Beijing.

Following bilateral talks, a round of four-party talks (PRC-US-ROK-DPRK) should be conducted to discuss the ending of the Korean War by the way of signing a new peace treaty, diplomatic cross recognition, and mutual security assurance. Ultimately, after the peace regime is established, the six-party talks (with participation of Russia and Japan) may be resumed and lead to a final resolution of nuclear problem.

BL: And with US, South Korea and Japan meeting next week to discuss more possible action, what might come out of such talks?

LP: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet on Monday, 6 Dec., in Washington with her counterparts from South Korea (Minister Kim Sung-hwan) and Japan (Minister Seiji Maehara) to discuss regional tension. It is disappointing that the meeting excludes China and Russia. The trilateral format of this meeting on regional security clearly shows that the US and its allies still think and operate in the old Cold War paradigm of bloc mentality, where fear and distrust rule decision making.

The current crisis has created a moment of truth for all members of the former six-party talks, revealing their genuine intentions. The members of theUS-ROK-Japan alliance are much more comfortable talking amongst themselves than facing the challenge posed by DPRK-PRC-Russia’s invitation to end the Korean War and sign the peace treaty. Close cooperation between the United States and China is paramount for the quickest resolution of the Korean crisis and restoration of stability in the region.

Korea (North, South, or unified) should be given a status of neutral, non-aligned, and non-nuclear zone. Only then will its neighbours stop competing for influence over the peninsula, and Koreans themselves will be given a chance to reconcile. As a result, Korea will become a peaceful and stable regional balancer at the centre of Northeast Asia.

South Korea to hold artillery drills near border with North

2 12 2010

Tania Branigan (The Guardian, 1 Dec. 2010) South Korea plans to hold major artillery training exercises next week – including some in an area close to its disputed maritime border with the North, media in Seoul reported today. Analysts warned the move, which emerged as the South’s military completed joint drills with a US aircraft carrier group, could increase tensions already running high in the wake of last week’s attack by the North

Analysts believe the most likely outcome of the current stand-off is further negotiations, and that North Korea’s actions are in part intended to push Seoul and Washington back towards talks based on giving the North aid in exchange for a pledge on scaling back its nuclear capabilities. The US has described its participation in this week’s manoeuvres as a deterrent while the South’s defence minister warned there was an “ample possibility” of a provocation by the North when the USS George Washington aircraft carrier leaves today.

But some analysts warned that more military drills could escalate a delicate situation by angering the North. “The overall situation might be intensified and a new crisis might be brought by doing this,” said Professor Chu Shulong, an expert on international security at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. He added: “Because of the Cheonan incident in March and the shelling in Yeonpyeong, [South Korean] people are angry and their anger has not been addressed yet. They are not happy with the reaction of the government. “At the same time, South Korea cannot attack North Korea. They can only express their anger through military drills; it is their only way to show the determination to defend their country and to warn the North.”

Dr Leonid Petrov, an expert on the North at the University of Sydney, added: “Conservatives in Pyongyang and Seoul are driving the situation to a new extreme.” He argued that Lee’s choice was effectively to “either go to war with North Korea or reverse his policy and return to the sunshine policy [of his predecessors] and renege on his electoral promises”. Petrov added that the “responsible” course for the US would be to talk to the North.

Beijing – under pressure to rein in its ally – threw the ball back into Washington’s court by calling for an emergency meeting of the six nations involved in the stalled aid-for-denuclearisation talks. But the US, South Korea and Japan have snubbed that proposal, instead planning to hold trilateral talks next week. “I think there has to be a seriousness on the part of the North Koreans to get back to these [six-party] talks,” said the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs.

Japan sent its envoy to the nuclear talks to China today. The senior North Korean leader Choe Thae Bok is currently in Beijing and China’s state councillor Dai Bingguo is expected to travel to Pyongyang shortly. A Russian nuclear envoy, Grigory Logvinov, will meet officials in Seoul today to discuss the attack, the six-party talks and other issues, said South Korea’s foreign ministry…

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Military to hold firing drills near border island next week

SEOUL, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s military plans to conduct large-scale artillery firing drills in seas around the Korean Peninsula, including waters close to the Yellow Sea border, starting Dec. 6, seeking to beef up its defense readiness posture against any possible additional provocations by North Korea, officials said Tuesday.

According to officials at the Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) has issued an advisory to local vessels planning to navigate 29 locations in waters around the peninsula from Dec. 6-12. The 29 locations include 16 in the Yellow Sea, seven in the East Sea and six in the South Sea, the officials said.

They noted that the 16 Yellow Sea locations do not include waters close to Yeonpyeong Island, which was attacked by North Korea’s deadly artillery shells on Nov. 23. Instead, Daecheong Island, close to Baengnyeong Island and located just south of the Yellow Sea border, was included among the venues of the naval firing drills, the officials said. “Naval warships plan to conduct firing exercises in waters southwest of Daecheong Island,” an official for the JCS said.

Next week’s naval firing drills, which will follow the large-scale South Korea-U.S. joint naval exercises scheduled to continue through Wednesday, are expected to further increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula…

…Government sources said that the military also has a plan to conduct shooting exercises in waters off Yeonpyeong Island in the immediate future. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that the military is now seeking to choose an appropriate time for live fire exercises in waters off Yeonpyeong Island.

China to dump North Korea, really?

1 12 2010

By Sunny Lee (Asia Times On-line, 1 Dec. 2010) BEIJING – The WikiLeaks revelations on North Korea did not surprise analysts, who said they are after all not particularly substantial; and when it comes to North Korea, even ranking government officials can be wrong.

Leaked US diplomatic cables show China’s frustration with communist ally North Korea and present a picture that Beijing is likely to abandon its long-time ideological brother country by accepting a future unified Korea under South Korean control. That interpretation, analysts say, belies reality

“For North Korea watchers, it was not much of a news,” said Leonid Petrov, a Russian expert on Korean affairs, who teaches at the University of Sydney. Going against the predominant sentiment in the WikiLeaks documents, in which China is seen as ready to abandon its long-time communist ally, observers largely believe bilateral ties are intact, even after North Korea’s attack on the South last week, which drew international criticism on China as it long-time enabler, and calls for Beijing to do more to contain the North’s aggression.

What WikiLeaks did, according to analysts, was offer confirmation of the shallowness of the rest of the world’s understanding of North Korea, even at the very high level of a government bureaucracy, and how easy it is to be misled by one source or another.

“WikiLeaks helps us to know that, after all, intelligence is sometimes not reliable and sometimes even can be funny,” said Petrov. “It also reveals what could happen when you don’t have direct access to North Korea. People who really know North Korea don’t send cables to their government from neighboring countries [of North Korea.]”

Countries that really understand North Korea have diplomats in Pyongyang, like some European nations, Russia and China. “They all have embassies in Pyongyang and they have direct access to North Korean government officials and people,” Petrov said

Analysts believe that real, critical information is still outside the public realm. “I am pretty sure the Russian Embassy or the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang know and understand North Korea much better. They know personalities there. They know who is in what condition. Who’s controlling what. Yet they simply don’t share this [with diplomats of other countries]. So, what was leaked was just the tip of an iceberg,” said Petrov, the Russian expert.

WikiLeaks said China was preparing a contingency plan in the case of the collapse of North Korea and a flood of North Korean refugees to Chinese territory and outbreaks of unrest along its border that could happen if the with North Korean regime failed. Chinese officials in the leaks said China “could deal with up to 300,000 refugees but might have to seal the border to maintain order”. This is one of the most sensitive parts of WikiLeaks and is something that America has repeatedly nudged China to discuss, though China has so far refused…

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