A Unified Korea – The Finland of Northeast Asia

16 02 2018

PyeongchangRadio Sputnik International (Pivot to Asia 15.02.2018) An amazing thing is happening in Korea. The North and the South are experiencing a thaw in relations and a visit by the President of South Korea to North Korea is on the cards. This thaw has huge geopolitical implications.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra discusses the situation with host John Harrison.

The West has perhaps been caught off guard by what is happening right now in Korea. The North and South of country are on the verge of opening up diplomatic negotiations despite the will of the USA. When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposed resuming talks with South Korea in his New Year’s Day address, Seoul seemed to leap at the opportunity. Dr. Petrov explains that President of South Korea Moon Jae-in was elected with a promise that he would improve relations with the North, and that has not yet happened. Now it is possible, after a 10-year freeze that another era of ‘sunshine policy’ will once again lead to improved relations. “Before then, there were zones of cooperation, charter flights between the two countries; tourists could drive their own cars into North Korea to visit their loved ones who they hadn’t seen for decades after the Korean War.” Koreans, whether they live in the South or the North, Dr. Petrov says, are, in general, interested in improving relations between the two countries. But unification would bring its own difficulties. “Young and old will all tell you that unification of the country is their dream. But it depends what the next question is going to be. Are you going to introduce a unification tax, are you going to give your job to brothers and sisters in North Korea, who would agree to be paid half of your salary? So they might say — let’s have unification sometime in the future, not now. South Koreans view North Korea as a territory which needs to be liberated and emancipated.”

One could perhaps compare the possible unification of the two Koreas with the unification of East and West Germany, but that, Dr. Petrov said would not be a very good comparison because the wage levels of North Koreans are proportionally far lower than those of the East Germans before the Berlin wall came down. The South Koreans are extremely well educated now and competitive in commercial and industrial know-how and skills, this is clearly very different from the situation in North Korea. “North and South can talk about unification but only after a joint process of collaboration and education. That’s why President Moon Jae-in’s thesis is firstly one of reconciliation, second, economic integration and only then unification. The nuclearization, well that’s something that makes the whole story very complex because North Korea is not preparing to denuclearize.”

The Americans see their presence in South Korea as having provided stability in the area, surely they are not going to take been shouldered out lying down?, John Harrison asks. To that, Dr. Petrov answers that the whole idea of American presence in South Korea is based on anti-communist sentiment. “It is very ideological and political; this is in essence, a Cold war mentality which brings together American and Seoul right wing politicians. …For them, it is important to stand together because China and Russia are just next door, and the Americans want to be present. South Korea provides the opportunity for American troops to be stationed in the South Pacific….An American withdrawal would undermine the whole thesis of an American-Korean brotherhood in arms built on anti-communism.”

Since coming to power, President Trump has questioned Seoul’s contributions towards the alliance, opened renegotiations of the long-fought US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and threatened direct military action against the North for which the South would bear the bulk of the risk. Dr. Petrov says that South Korea is the power that will benefit from Trump’s inconsistences in foreign policy. “South Korea will gain access to raw materials and minerals which North Korea is now selling to China….South Korea will be much stronger. This is why Japan is so paranoid about reconciliation as well. Everybody is against the idea of reconciliation but one country, and that is Russia. Russia is very keep to sell its raw materials and expertise to the unified Korea….Right now, North Korea is a black hole in a quickly growing region. For Russia, it makes much more sense to support the unification project because that will open the doors to export opportunities in South Korea, and the Russian Far East is hugely under developed and under populated….I think it is a win-win-win situation for Moscow, Pyongyang and Seoul to see the reconciliation process restarted, maybe at the expense of the South Korean-American alliance. The Americans don’t want to see a unified Korea right next door to Vladivostok, the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet. China is also paranoid about potential US military bases on its borders. So, for Russia and China, it is important to see Korea as a kind of Finland of East Asia. A country which is nonaligned but prosperous, which is peaceful but vigilant, and is an economic powerhouse.”

There is a possibility that the current thaw between the two Koreas might actually lead to an increased likelihood of war because the US may feel that it needs to safeguard its alliance whilst it can. Dr. Petrov explains that this is unlikely because of the close proximity of large centers of population spread between the two countries. “What President Trump was talking about last year, about fire and fury, about a nuclear armada all turned out to be just empty talk, he didn’t send a nuclear armada to the shores of North Korea because the coastline of North Korea is not far away from the Russian coastline, and the Russian Pacific fleet. I don’t think the United States is going to jeopardize its own naval and air assets and the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens who live work and study in South Korea because if war starts there, there is going to massive loss of human life, huge nuclear contamination of the whole region and economic disaster for everyone involved. South Korea would not tolerate any reckless action, President Moon Jae-in made it very clear to President Trump that there will be no war without his consent, that there will be no war against North Korea without the specific permission of the South Korean government, and the South Korea government is not suicidal…”

Listen to the full podcast of this interview here.

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Russian and Chinese Stance on North Korea is Consistent with the Old Days Comradeship

7 12 2017

tbs eFMMy interview with Alex Jensen (tbs eFM Radio 101.3 MHz, Seoul) about the Russian and Chinese stance on North Korea.





If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in

27 04 2017

Pyongyang-MoscowKirsty Needham (Sydney Morning Herlad, Beijing, 24 APRIL 2017)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his US counterpart Donald Trump that Beijing opposes any action on the Korean Peninsula that goes against UN Security Council resolutions.

The phone call between the two leaders came as Chinese media reported on a rift between Beijing and Pyongyang, with North Korean state media criticising China as “dancing to the tune of the US”…

The US has repeatedly urged China to use its economic clout to put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, warning that if China cannot produce a solution, the US may act alone.

Mr Xi told Mr Trump the international situation was changing rapidly and it was important the US and China maintain close contact, Chinese state media reported.

“Xi Jinping stressed that China is firmly against any behaviours that violate the UN Security Council’s resolution, at the same time it hopes all parties concerned maintain restraint, avoid doing anything intensifying the peninsula situation,” CCTV reported.

Asked about the North Korean media attack, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “China’s position is consistent and clear and the relevant party should be very clear about that.”

Chinese experts are saying cutting oil would be the toughest sanction China could impose – it was last done in 2003 for just three days.

North Korea’s mining industry would be severely hit if China cut energy supply to the regime.

The front page of North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday praised the DPRK’s mining industry as self-reliant, exceeding capacity and “smashing the enemies’ sanctions”.

Kim Jong-un sent congratulations to a magnesite mine – a mineral that is exempt from UN sanctions. North Korea has the world’s second largest deposits of magnesite, a raw material listed as “critical” by the US and the European Union and a key component in smartphones and aircraft. China has the world’s largest deposits.

Leonid Petrov, an ANU fellow, says China is buying other rare earth minerals that are vital for high-technology products at half price from North Korea. He says if relations between Pyongyang and Beijing continue to deteriorate, Pyongyang could cut off sales to China and find new export markets elsewhere.

“If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in. North Korea allows China and Russia to compete for concessions and ports and fishing,” he said.

See the full article here…





Russia Friendship Section Added to ARIRANG Mass Games

23 07 2013

NK-Russia-friendship-ARIRANGby Chad O’Carroll (NK News, 23 July 2013) Headline image by Koryo Tours.

SEOUL – North Korea has added a chapter on Russian friendship to the Arirang Mass Games, a source who attended the show on Monday night told NK News.

The new section includes a banner that says “Russian friendship [carries on] century by century” and represents the first time North Korea has included a section specifically focusing on relations with Russia during its Mass Games.

“The role of the USSR in the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule has always been acknowledged by Pyongyang. But with this news perhaps Pyongyang is trying to play the Russian card in its diplomatic game with China,” Dr. Leonid Petrov, a researcher at Australia National University told NK News.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea often used its relationship between Moscow and Beijing to gain competing concessions from the two superpowers. Dr. Petrov speculates that following increasing reliance on China in recent years, the DPRK might now be using Arirang to fan a closer relationship with Russia.

“Kim Jong Un desperately needs closer links with and more developmental aid from China. The best strategy in this game would be that he use the tried and tested policy of maintaining ‘equidistance’ from Beijing and Moscow,” Dr. Petrov explained via email.

In addition to the new Russia chapter, the manner in which China was presented was also different, the source said. “The Chinese part was shortened this year, they still had the friendship section but it seemed a lot shorter. I didn’t see so much about the pandas last night,” the source told NK News after watching the inaugural show.

The Mass games normally includes a major chapter on North Korea’s relationship with China, though experts had predicted it was likely this would change following an apparent “frosting” of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Pyongyang in recent months.

“[North Korea has] been so angry with China this year, do they want to send a message to the Chinese by dropping the friendship chapter? Or if there is a big overhaul and thus a change in the narrative story of the performance, perhaps this is a good opportunity to drop the awkwardly placed chapter in a fairly natural way,” Andray Abrahamian, a Director at Chosun Exchange, told NK News.

Another notable change to this year’s proceedings was the inclusion of a short chapter on North Korean relations with the entire world. The performers formed an olive branch, possibly as a metaphor of the country’s own self-professed willingness to seek better relations with the rest of the world.

“It was very brief, just a glimpsing moment – but it was interesting and a change from last year,” the source told NK News. The theme of this year’s mass games is focused on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War (known as the Fatherland Liberation War in North Korea) and the 65th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK.

The Arirang mass games, a 120,000 person gymnastic and artistic performance, started in 2002, and tells a “grand story of a divided peninsula and how North Korea became a dignified nation,” according to North Korean state media.





North Korea Enters “State of War”

31 03 2013

APTOPIX North Korea Rally(NKnews.org March 30, 2013) North Korea is entering a “state of war” with South Korea, according to a statement made this morning by the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA). Pyongyang’s latest warning pointed out that U.S. bases in Hawaii and Guam would be targeted in what could turn into “an all-out war, a nuclear war.”

“From this moment, the North-South relations will be put at the state of war, and all the issues arousing between the North and the South will be dealt with according to the wartime regulations,” North Korean state media outlet KCNA said today. “If the U.S. and the South Korean puppet group perpetrate a military provocation for igniting a war against the DPRK (North Korea) in any area… it will not be limited to a local war but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war”.  KCNA added that the “time has come to stage a do-or-die final battle”.

But despite the increasing rhetoric, Denis Samsonov, a public relations officer working at the Russian embassy in North Korea, told Russia’s NTV that the situation in Pyongyang remains “calm”. “Basically, life in the city is as usual…We are witnessing no tension.” The Russian Foreign Ministry ambassador at large, Grigoriy Logvinov, told Interfax News that although he hoped all sides would “show restraint”, Russia would not “remain uninvolved under conditions when tension is fomenting near our eastern borders”.

Leonid Petrov, an Australian National University Korean Studies Researcher, told NK NEWS that the ”state of war” marked a sharp turning point. “After 60 years of slow-motion war thinly covered by the 1953 Armistice Agreement, Pyongyang has finally found the courage to call a spade a spade. The ambiguity of the current situation is no longer tolerable for North Korea, who is tired of sanctions, double standards, and nuclear bullying.” He added, “Neither peace nor war has led to famine, stagnation or isolation of this rich and strategically important part of Northeast Asia. By proclaiming “state of war” with South Korea, Kim Jong Un is simply reminding the world about this unresolved problem, inherited from the Cold War era.”

Despite the increase in rhetoric, a military source told South Korean news agency Yonhap News that the Korean People’s Army was not currently showing signs of war preparations or unusual moves. Yonhap added that the South Korean defense ministry viewed the latest statement as an”unacceptable threat that hurts peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”.

In the U.S., the White house said that it would be taking North Korea’s threats seriously. ”We’ve seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea,” Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council told AFP.

Steve Chung, a Research Fellow at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the “state of war” was merely a new deployment of old North Korean rhetoric. “We have seen Pyongyang using similar verbal threats before. North Korea has routinely warned Seoul of things like a ‘Sea of Flames’, ‘Sacred War’, and even ‘Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strikes’. So while this is a revision of previous rhetoric, it may only have a limited effect.” Chung added, “the two Koreas are still technically in a ‘state-of-war’, because the 60 year old armistice only serves as a temporarily halt to war, not an end to the Korean War.”

Meanwhile, Beijing based experts talking to Chinese media said that Thursday’s deployment of B-2 bombers, which can carry up to 16 nuclear weapons, was a “shock-and-awe” symbol of U.S. escalation. On CCTV’s “Focus Today”, North Korea expert Li Li said the bombers’ deployment was a reflection of the U.S. attempt to “counter North Korea’s nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons.” Xinhua News, a Chinese state news outlet, pointed out that “it’s time for both sides to take a step back and let the cooler minds prevail”, weary of the escalation of threat.

However, North Korean media added in a later bulletin that in the event of conflict, victory would  be “certain”. Pyongyang has threatened attacks almost daily since it was sanctioned for its February nuclear test. Some observers suggest the threats indicate the potential of regime instability. Few think though that North Korea will follow up and actually commence major hostilities.

The latest rhetoric appears to be a tit-for-tat response to Thursday’s U.S. stealth bomber training that saw two B-2’s fly from Missouri to drop ordinance on an island in the southern half of the Korean peninsula. U.S. officials said the flights were not designed to raise tensions, but reduce them by bolstering deterrence in face of North Korea’s recent vitriolic provocations.

Both Pyongyang and Seoul have labelled each other’s rhetoric as ‘provocative’ in recent weeks, and their own military exercises as ‘defensive’. North Korea has declared the peace agreement that ended the Korean War to be “void”, and has threatened preemptive nuclear strikes on both Japan and the U.S.





Coping with North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions

15 03 2013

Alexander Zhebin_1Hosted by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, this event will start on Monday, 18 March 2013, at 6:00 PM, at The Glover Cottages, 124 Kent Street, Sydney NSW.

With North Asia now on full alert in the light of the increasingly menacing rhetoric from Pyongyang following the latest round of UN sanctions, AIIA NSW is staging a special event on Monday March 18.

AIIA NSW is proud to present Dr Alexander Zhebin, director of the Centre for Korean Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, who is visiting Australia.

Dr Zhebin, who has lived and worked in North Korea earlier in his career when he was a correspondent for the Russian news agency, TASS, will argue that the promise of economic gain has not been sufficient to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.

He will argue  that: “For the North Korean regime security is a top priority. The nuclear problem cannot be resolved without addressing the DPRK’s reasonable security concerns. The DPRK is trying to normalize its relations with the US because through achieving this goal Pyongyang hopes to get the security guarantees or, at least, to create such a security environment under which it would be much more difficult for the US to use force against North Korea. Beijing continues to treat the DPRK as an important buffer state which separates China from the US forward-deployed forces in East Asia. Russia does not want to see the arch of instability stretching closer to its doorstep in the Far East and, even less so, a new “hot war” in the region.

“This approach determines Russia’s position on the nuclear problem in Korea. After the events in Libya the West’s political guarantees have lost their credibility in the eyes of Pyongyang’s leadership. Only a consistent engagement policy, aimed at the genuine involvement of DPRK in globalization and cooperation processes in Northeast Asia and pursued by South Korea and by the West, can convince the North Korean elite that the international community is not contemplating a regime change scenario.

We apologise for the late notice of this event, but feel members and others interested in the most pressing global conflict of our time will want to meet Dr Zhebin and discuss his views.

Alexander Zhebin is a renowned  specialist on Korean Studies in Moscow. Before joining the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, he worked for 17 years as a journalist at the TASS News Agency. During his time with TASS he was a correspondent and then later became the Pyongyang bureau chief. After his journalism career he became a diplomat and worked in the Russian Embassy in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. Having lived such a long time in the country, Mr. Zhebin decided to continue with his study of the region and in 2004 he became the director of the Centre for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Mr. Zhebin is also the author of numerous articles on political development in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Russia-North Korea relations, and security of the Korean peninsula.

AIIA members: $15.00;  Senior/student members: $10.00
Visitors:  $25.00;  Student visitors: $15.00

RSVP: here…
All inquiries:   nsw.branch@aiia.asn.au





Moscow Supports Kim Jong-Un

29 06 2012

(By Leonid Petrov, The Montréal Review, 28 July 2012)

Russia claims it is willing to link divided Korea with energy pipelines and electricity grids. But its economic relations with North Korea indicate a return to the Cold War politics of the past.

In 1948 Stalin sponsored the creation of the DPRK in the Northern half of the Korean peninsula. The following year, Prime Minister Kim Il-sung travelled to Moscow to collect a 2% interest loan of 212 million Soviet Rubles. Some of this money was allocated to build the centrally-planned economy, but much of the funding was used to fuel unification efforts in a war against South Korea between 1950 and 1953. After the end of the disastrous Korean War, the Soviet Union continued to help North Korea with the rebuilding of its cities, industry and infrastructure.

Even during the Sino-Soviet ideological split in the 1960s and 1970s, Moscow tried to curry favour with Pyongyang throughout its confrontation with Beijing. As a bastion of Communism in the Far East that directly faced US troops on the Korean peninsula, North Korea successfully managed to squeeze money from both of its allies during the Cold War. But when the iron curtain fell in the early 1990s, the Democrats in Moscow swiftly recognized Seoul and demanded the payment of debts from Pyongyang.

The timing could not have been worse for North Korea. Most of the country’s capital had been wasted on non-productive sectors, an oversized army, ideological campaigns and extravagant monuments. All that North Korea could offer to Russia as payment-in-kind was a humble list of export goods that did not exceed pickles, cigarettes and ginseng-based medicines. With the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994 and the beginning of natural disasters in 1995, North Korea’s agonising industrial and agricultural sectors collapsed, killing some 3 million people in three consecutive years of famine.

South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” (1998-2008) and growing humanitarian aid from other regional neighbours permitted North Korea to weather the “Arduous March”; finally showing some signs of recovery in the early 2000s. It was around this time that Moscow once again raised the issue of North Korea’s debt, which had already been calculated at nearly US $8 billion. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chairman Kim Jong-il visited each other twice to discuss this and other bilateral issues, creating an impression that the debt would be written off rather than paid in full.

In August last year, at the last summit between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the Russian President Medvedev, the parties agreed to move forward on a proposal to build a pipeline that would be capable of transporting Russian natural gas to both Koreas. Simultaneously, North Korea and Russia signed a protocol calling for economic cooperation between the two countries. But international observers immediately questioned the feasibility of such a project in the midst of an ongoing inter-Korean conflict.

The oil markets of the last ten years have been favourable for Russia, allowing the country to save hundreds of billions of petro-dollars from the sale of energy-rich natural resources to its neighbours. Expecting an impoverished North Korea to pay off a Soviet-era debt, which today amounts to US $11 billion, would be unrealistic. Last week the Russian government agreed to discount 90 % of the debt owed by its destitute but stubborn ally. The remaining USD $1.1 billion was promised to be invested in joint Russian-North Korean projects, particularly in education, medical and energy sectors.

One may be surprised by the timing and generosity of the deal. Despite promises of a new era of strength and prosperity, this year saw the DPRK at odds with old evils. The coldest winter and the driest summer in decades have dashed its expectations for a proper harvest. The embarrassment of a faulty rocket launch in April was compounded by the withdrawal of US food-aid and international condemnation. The hyper-inflation of North Korean currency and the continuing energy crisis are not the propitious signs of effective governance by the newest leader in the Kim dynasty. Is Russia trying to help Kim Jong-un consolidate political power and overcome mounting economic difficulties?

This year Russia experienced the return of the Kremlin veteran, Vladimir Putin, to the presidential seat. Although he is associated with political reaction and is concerned by the prospect of “colour revolutions” at home, Russia is desperately running out of friends on the international stage. With Libya and Syria having already become victims of the “Arab Spring”, Moscow is scrambling to buttress dictatorial regimes in its vicinity. Anti-Americanism and curtailed political freedoms once again have become the primary criteria in gaining Kremlin sympathies. Belarus, Iran, the countries of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and now North Korea, have all received special treatment from the increasingly anti-Western Russia.

Whereas Beijing was once the only power that remained content to sink trillions of Yuan into North Korea simply to prop up a buffer state ruled by an anachronistic regime, Moscow is now returning to an East Asia policy that echoes of the Cold War. Instead of reprimanding Kim Jong-un for his provocative actions and belligerent rhetoric, Putin is dumping of trillions of tax-payers’ roubles into supporting a friendly dictator. Moscow’s empty promises to persuade North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program are in clear conflict with North Korea’s determination to remain a self-proclaimed nuclear power for the sake of its regime survival.

Northeast Asia is again becoming a theatre for large-scale geostrategic games where powerful empires scrum in a noxious struggle for domination, leaving 75 million Koreans in a state of anxious suspense.  Given the current situation, hopes for peace and reconciliation remain untenable.

See the Korean version of this article here… 모스크바는 김정은을 지지한다?