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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‘The Pentagon is dreading the potential of an inter-Korean reconciliation’

31 01 2018

Radio Sputnik(26 January 2018) North Korea has called on all Koreans at home and abroad to make a breakthrough for unification without the involvement of foreign countries. The message was announced by Pyongyang’s state media and came after the government met with political parties. Earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signaled his willingness to mend relations with his southern neighbor ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Radio Sputnik discussed this issue with Dr Leonid Petrov, North Korea expert and visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

Listen to this interview or download the broadcast here…





Have We Underestimated Kim Jong Un?

20 10 2017

Sputnik International - John Harrison(Sputnik International, Level Talk with John Harrison 13.10.2017) Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra joins the program and supplies a very different narrative from that of the mainstream media.

Dr. Petrov starts the program by stating that at the present time there seem to be no negotiations taking place. “Even when US Secretary of State Tillerson tried to enter into discussions with Jong Un, President Trump dismissed such attempts as being a waste of time. Attempts at dialogue finished in 2008 when the ‘6 Party Talks’ ended… I never thought that format was going to be a success because there were simply too many parties to come to a sensible agreement.”

The Obama administration did not wish to negotiate with N. Korea, Dr. Petrov says. “Obama refused to negotiate, preferring to wait until N. Korea falls to bits. There was nevertheless an attempt to negotiate, which led to an agreement, in February 2012 between Washington and Pyongyang. They basically agreed to improve bilateral relations, not only in terms of politician and diplomatic channels, but also in sports, academic, and humanitarian channels. But when N. Korea launched a rocket to celebrate the anniversary of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong Un’s late grandfather, this deal was torpedoed as in firing this missile, N. Korea violated a UN agreement….If the Americans had been more sensitive to the fact that this happened during the first year in power of Kim Jong Un, the present situation would be very different.”

The underlying narrative that the West holds that Kim Jong Un is some kind of psychotic dictator is discussed. As Dr. Petrov points out that there is a real problem, as nobody wants to understand Kim Jong Un’s points of view: “Nobody talks to Kim Jong Un. China doesn’t like him. He was invited to Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. Kim Jong Un agreed initially but then refused after Obama and Merkel indicated that they would visit….Can you imagine the main Korean newspaper showing the Greatest of All Leaders standing next to other Heads of States. He has to constantly bolster his position through launches of ballistic missiles of different ranges. His attitude towards foreigners is that they should come to Pyongyang and kowtow and negotiate. But they refuse to do so.”

Understanding Kim Jong Un’s position, means understanding the legacy of colonialism in the region. Dr. Petrov explains: “N. Korea itself is a remnant of Cold War confrontation, and it is not just North and South Korea which is divided, but the whole of the region. There are no peace treaties, there are territorial disputes about international borders; some countries refuse to recognize each other, even though they have been represented in the UN for the last half century. What happened between North and South Korea is often recognized as a continuing war which started even before N. Korea attacked the South in 1950. Korea did not exist for 35 or 36 years when it was under Japanese colonial rule at the beginning of the 20th century; Japan was not only a problem for the Koreans but for the Chinese as well and there was an intention to unify [by Japan] the region against westerners. Now what North Koreas are doing is an attempt to replicate the Japanese Imperial Culture, when Japan was projecting itself as the leading force against western imperialism in the region. N. Korea is projecting itself as the bulwark of freedom and democracy against [what it perceives] western corrupt militaristic intentions to rule the world. We see that even Marxism-Leninism didn’t survive in N. Korea and was replaced by the so called ‘Juche’ self-reliance ideology which basically insists that N. Korea give up any attempt to integrate into the world economic system. N. Korea survived the collapse of the communist bloc, and did not suffer from the global, financial or Asian financial crises.”

As regards how the problem should be solved, Dr. Petrov suggests that we, the West should stop deceiving itself, and see that a country which has developed a nuclear weapon cannot undo its scientific progress. “Even if N. Korea were to dismantle its weapons it would be impossible to verify that N. Korea doesn’t have hidden away in the mountains somewhere a device or two, or a blueprint of a bomb with a couple of scientists who could recreate it within weeks. The only solution to this is what N. Korea is suggesting — a nuclear free world. This of course is impossible, but what the N. Korean leadership is suggesting is a comprehensive ban on nuclear warhead testing….They learnt the lesson of Libya; they understand that only with strong military deterrence they can ensure the survival of their regime. This is the most important thing for Kim Jong Un and his family and the 10,000 families around him who are loyal and supportive of the regime.”

I believe Kim Jong Un is a gift to President Trump, every time he launches something, people get distracted from what is going on in Washington DC….N. Korea and the US are locked into inter-dependence. The US needs a paper tiger. N. Korea is a small country which has nuclear weapons which cannot yet be mounted on rockets, but which definitely pose a threat to S. Korea, and other allies of the US, including Australia, who now feel the need to buy more sophisticated weapons to protect themselves against N. Korea, and the US is very willing to offer these very expensive and sophisticated anti-missile systems. ”

We appear to have underestimated Kim Jong Sun, probably we have never really tried. “The leaders of the countries that surround N. Korea all need Kim Jong Un for one reason or another; Kim Jong Un is keeping the show going. The region is paranoid, the region is really insecure, the region constantly lives in fear of war, and everyone understands that if there is a major shift in the balance of threat in N. Korea, it would open the gates to a tsunami of changes which may lead to a major shift in the balance of power, not only on the Korean peninsula but between China and Russia and the United States, which might start competing for geopolitical influence in the region.”

Listen to the full interview here…





“Neither War Nor Peace” Regime in Korea in Untenable

21 06 2017

LP @bevvo14(ABC TV The World, 2017.06.20) Otto Warmbier has become the most recent victim of the continuing Korean War, where the most adamant participants (DPRK on one side and ROK and US on the other) still refuse to recognise each other and systematically threaten each other with preemptive strikes and nuclear retaliation.

Otto bore the brunt of unending hostility and continuing thirst for vengeance, which dominate politics on and around the Korean peninsula. His tragic death is a reminder to all of us that the “neither war nor peace” regime is unacceptable and is fraught with new dramas and victims. Tourism may help to heal the conflict, but it’s also most susceptible to political football and puts innocent or reckless people at a heightened risk. That’s why the zones of inter-Korean economic cooperation and tourism have been shut down one after another in the last decade. Unless the war is officially over, the Koreans, Americans and anyone involved in this conflict will be in real danger of arrest, abuse or even execution.





The Ball is in the US Court

19 04 2017

LP ABC TV 2017.04.17(ABC TV, 7:30 Report, 2017.04.17) US Vice President Mike Pence has warned the ‘era of strategic patience’ with North Korea is over after the country carried out a failed missile launch. The world now awaits the next move of the brutal North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

DONALD TRUMP, US PRESIDENT: North Korea’s a problem. The problem will be taken care of.

LT. GENERAL H.R. MCMASTER, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The President has made clear that he will not accept the United States and its allies and partners in the region being under threat from this hostile regime.

LEONID PETROV, ANU COLLEGE OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC: The whole population is determined to stand up and fight until the last bullet, until the last soldier.

STAN GRANT, REPORTER: North Korea is at war. Nothing has changed in more than 60 years. For this reclusive country, the Korean War has never ended.

LEONID PETROV: For North Korea, the state of war is their normal state of existence, and the population of North Korea is told every day that the war is going on, it never ended in 1953.

STAN GRANT: The drums are now beating louder. American warships are steaming near the Korean Coast. This past weekend, North Korea put on a display of its own firepower. It sends a deadly warning – it has the weapons and, if pushed, it could use them.

LEONID PETROV: The worst thing for the Kim regime is an attack, a regime change, occupation of North Korea, total chaos and the termination of the dynasty.

STAN GRANT: Leonid Petrov has spent a lifetime studying this hermit kingdom. He was in the capital, Pyongyang, just this year. It is, he says, a strange place, where time has stood still.

LEONID PETROV: North Koreans live in year 106.

STAN GRANT: 106?

LEONID PETROV: Yes, 106th year after the birth of their founding father. Kim Il-sung.

STAN GRANT: They’re not living in the 21st Century?

LEONID PETROV: They live in the year 106.

STAN GRANT: Survival of the regime now rests with the boy king, Kim Jong-un. He came to power before he was 30 years old. Like his father and grandfather, he is brutal, he executes writers, he rules his people with fear and he continues to amass a military that threatens nuclear apocalypse.

In a report for the United Nations, former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby peered into this terrifying world of secret prisons, mass starvation and state-sanctioned violence.

MICHAEL KIRBY, UNITED NATIONS INVESTIGATOR: We found that there was widespread, prolonged and brutal wrongs done to the people of North Korea, many of which rose to the level of crimes against humanity.

STAN GRANT: So, could a regime that turns its guns on its own people launch an attack against the rest of us?

LEONID PETROV: If North Korea is attacked with the force which is similar to nuclear capability, nuclear attack, then North Koreans probably wouldn’t think twice before using the weapons of mass destruction.

STAN GRANT: Petrov fears an American attack that pushes North Korea into a corner. Kim Jong-un, he says, would immediately strike across the border into South Korea. Military strategists believe it could rain down half a million artillery rounds in just one hour.

LEONID PETROV: That would cause tens of thousands of human lives, at least, and massive panic, and also devastation to the infrastructure…

(Watch the full interview here… )





Inside the world’s weirdest bromance between Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman

13 01 2014

KJU_Rodman(News.com.au 08 January 2014) He may be in the country to celebrate his dictator best mate’s birthday today, but Dennis Rodman is making headlines for entirely different reasons.

The former NBA star, currently in the isolated state to celebrate Kim Jung-un’s birthday as part of a basketball tour, lost it during an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

The eccentric Rodman lashed out at the CNN anchorman who quizzed him about visiting North Korea so soon after the execution of Kim’s uncle.

When quizzed further about the status of detained US citizen Kenneth Bae, Rodman really let loose, struggling to contain his anger:
“I don’t give a rat’s a*** what the hell you think,” he said.
“Look at the guys right here.
“You are the guy behind the mic…and we are the guys here doing our thing.”

Rodman has been protective of his relationship with Kim after striking up a friendship since meeting a year ago.
But their relationship isn’t as bizarre as the rest of the world might think.

According to one expert, the pair have a mutually beneficial relationship with Kim using Rodman as a PR weapon against the west and the American using his new found friendship to become a celebrity once again.

KIM JONG-UN UNCLE’S IDENTITY ERASED

Dr Leonid Petrov, researcher at Australian National University’s School of Culture, History and Language, told news.com.au while North Korea seems a strange country, its leader’s friendship with a former sports star was far from odd.

Dr Petrov said the dictator’s attraction to someone like Rodman wasn’t unusual when you considered Kim’s lifelong obsession with sports and basketball in particular. Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, is a keen basketball fan and loves the Chicago Bulls. Rodman played a key role in winning three NBA titles for the Bulls alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s.

WHY RODMAN?

According to Dr Petrov, Rodman helped Kim show his people and the rest of the world the Supreme Leader had the human touch and that a friendship with a basketball icon would be a dream come true for him. “Kim has always had a strong interest in sport from a very young age and Rodman is an idol to him,” he said.

Dr Petrov added that with North Korea being isolated from the west, Kim “feels he needs some form of appreciation from the world” and such a relationship brought some normality to the country and its people. “Both (men) want the attention, Kim gets attention from the western media and so does Rodman” Dr Petrov said.

HOW THEY MET

Rodman first struck up a bond with the Supreme Leader in February last year when he visited the country for what was coined a “basketball diplomacy mission” where he attended a mixed-match basketball game with VICE Magazine . Kim Jong-un reportedly declared Rodman, known as “The Worm”, a “friend for life” and the sportsman is one of the few Westerners to have met him.

Upon visiting Kim’s private island, Rodman declared, “It’s like Hawaii or Ibiza, but he’s the only one that lives there.”

WHY IS HE BACK IN NORTH KOREA?

The ex-Chicago Bulls player is leading a team including retired NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker for a celebratory exhibition game against North Korea in honour of Kim’s 31st birthday.

WHY THE RELATIONSHIP MATTERS

Dr Petrov said while Rodman had clearly failed when it came to bringing up human rights abuses in the rogue state, at least he was extending the hand of friendship in the spirit of reconciliation.

One positive aspect of Rodman’s visit was it did open up some diplomacy with the world and at least allowed North Koreans insight into the west and an opportunity to learn more about the world.

RODMAN NEEDS TO RECONSIDER POSITION

However Dr Petrov said the former NBA star had missed an opportunity to talk to his friend about human rights, its collapsed economy and an illicit drug and black market trade.

Speaking from Beijing Airport ahead of the visit, Rodman said he hoped the match could “open the doors” to “talk about certain things” and said he wasn’t there for a political debate. “But I am not going to sit there and go, ‘Hey guy, you are doing the wrong thing. That is not the right way to do it.’ He is my friend first … and I love him,” Rodman said.

According to Dr Petrov, it’s not only a missed opportunity to help the people of North Korea but loses him respect with the west.

WHY THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT

Dr Petrov maintained the visit did have some positive aspects such as developing some form of friendship with the isolated state. “If we want North Korea to change we need to engage them somehow,” he said. “At least his visit is better than not doing nothing at all.”

See the full text of the article here…





‘Murky’ drug trade: How did North Korea become a meth hub?

8 12 2013

Foreign_nationals_suspected_of_smuggling_methamphetamines_from_NK(By Geoffrey Cain, GlobalPost Contributor, 7 Dec. 2013SEOUL, South Korea – Extradited from Thailand, the five suspects appeared before a New York court last month to face charges of a sensational plot: smuggling crystal meth from enemy number one, North Korea.

The five suspects – from China, the U.K., the Philippines and possibly Slovakia – stand accused by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of conspiring to sell 40 pounds of 99 percent pure crystal meth to an undercover agent. They pleaded not guilty, and will appear in court again in early December.

You wouldn’t guess it, but North Korea – run by the world’s most infamous authoritarian regime – happens to be a colossal supplier of a highly potent but moderately priced form of crystal meth, experts say.

It comes in the form of “Ice,” the powerful, smoke-able type that delivers a near-immediate jolt to the brain. The drug is primarily made for export, ferried through China and, from there, distributed around the world. But some North Koreans – despite the watchful eyes of their government – are avid consumers of crystal meth too.

Two North Korean refugees in Seoul told Global Post that, in a country suffering from poverty and food shortages, the drug is a much-needed appetite suppressant, offering a means of self-medication to cope with the hardship.

Near the Chinese border, they said, Ice was widely available on the black market. It was popular among private traders and their families, who had no problem inhaling or selling it in outdoor markets with a bribe to authorities.

“Life was hard, people were hungry, and we needed the drug,” said one female North Korean defector in Seoul, who fled to the Chinese border region in the mid-2000s. She admitted to smoking Ice multiple times, and once gave smaller doses to her two boys, aged 11 and 13.

“My family was a little wealthier, so we could afford it, but even poor people did it too,” she said. “It was a popular drug.” She asked not to be named, fearing reprisals against family members still in the country.

Of course, various types of amphetamines enjoy some popularity in developing countries in Asia and Africa, where laborers, for instance, need energy to work long hours on scant meals. Even South Korea, which leaped from poverty to riches in about 30 years, was once a big-time producer of crystal meth.

This booming trade, now in private hands, was once a fundraising arm for the cash-strapped government, experts say. North Korean embassies trafficked in hashish as far back as the 1970s.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the economy collapsed, resulting in a devastating famine. By the mid-2000s, a nascent class of merchants flourished, peddling just about any illegal product you could imagine, including drugs and pirated DVDs.

“These days, more and more freelancers and professional drug dealers are taking over this murky operation of delivering the drugs produced in North Korea, packed in Northeast China, and smuggled via South East Asia to Australia, America and Europe,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korea watcher at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Many North Korean scientists began to moonshine in private laboratories producing the similar high-quality product for domestic consumption and illicit export,” he said.

Since crystal meth laboratories are smelly, they would have to be away from populated towns. From a business standpoint, moving the contraband from North Korea to China would be realistic and highly profitable.

Chinese Mafiosos probably hand over supplies, while North Koreans, in the safety of their country, synthesize the drugs in factories near the southern banks of the Tumen River that marks part of the boundary between North Korea, China and Russia, writes Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at Kookmin University in Seoul. That’s a swift change from a lucrative narcotics trade that, a decade ago, was mostly state-run.

Still, it’s not clear whether the group of five suspected dealers had the resources and connections to move meth from North Korea all the way to North America. Prosecutors accuse the group of trafficking and selling North Korean drugs in Southeast Asia, a more reachable market.

One suspect even boasted that his organization was the only one that could get the job done. “Because before, there were eight [other organizations]. But now only us, we have the NK product,” Chinese suspect Ye Tiong Tan Lim was quoted as saying on the recordings.

The suspect said that his group stockpiled one ton of North Korean meth in the Philippines, anticipating an unconfirmed decision by North Korea to destroy meth labs under pressure from the U.S. The drugs would be shipped through Thailand, according to prosecutors.

The two North Korean defectors told GlobalPost they were unsure whether laboratories have been destroyed. One study in the North Korea Review suggested that the trade was indeed moving from an array of factories to the underground.

But, explains Petrov, “As with everything that comes out of North Korea, the veracity of this story is 50-50.”