Moment of truth coming for President Park’s ‘Trustpolitik’

29 05 2013

park-geun-hye-multiplyingby Leonid Petrov (Australian National University, NKnews.org 28 May 2013)

CANBERRA – Inter-Korean relations are in the lime-light again. On June 15, Koreans in the North and South were meant to celebrate another anniversary of their first historic summit, which took place in Pyongyang thirteen years ago. Nevertheless, the late South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il would have been very sad to see how their successors continue destroying the legacy of the Joint North-South Korean Declaration.

After the recent exchange of threats and muscle-flexing, the demise of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) came as a symbolic end of a once-blooming inter-Korean reconciliation. What is particularly disturbing is that this happens just months after newly-elected South Korean President Park Geun-Hye had pledged to implement a new North Korea policy.

TRUSTPOLITIK

Based on the two principles of ‘Trustpolitik’ and ‘Alignment’, Park’s strategy was supposed to be more pragmatic than Kim Dae-Jung’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ but less ideologically-driven than Lee Myung-Bak’s ‘Vision 3000’. Disappointingly, Park’s strategy for the normalization of inter-Korean relations was flawed from the outset.

She emphasized the promotion of cooperation in security, which is impossible in the context of the continuing Korean War. She also insisted that the trust building process would be linked to the progress in resolving the nuclear issue and, finally, Park outwardly declared that her goal was to encourage North Korea to become a “normal state”. Such a program certainly has no appeal for Pyongyang to be cooperative in its realization.

The last five years have shown that neither in Seoul nor in Pyongyang is there any appetite for cooperation. The zones of economic cooperation are now dead and buried; they were too expensive for South Korean entrepreneurs and too damaging for the North Korean regime.

Politically, North and South Korea continue to demonstrate disdain to each other. In April Seoul was “demanding” that Pyongyang negotiate the resumption of KIC operations by setting an ultimatum. In response, the North cut a military hot line connecting the two militaries on both sides of the DMZ. In reciprocation, Seoul has recently brushed off a North Korean offer to resume the Six-Party Talks.

IMPOSSIBLE FACE-OFF

Zero-sum game on the Korean peninsula is continuing. Whatever North Korea proposes is blocked by the South and vice versa. Pyongyang policy makers know all too well that the Blue House in Seoul will refuse their offers, regardless of how sensible or tempting they might sound.

Similarly, the conservative Saenuri Party does not want to look weak or manipulated by Pyongyang’s initiatives and will always find a reason to decline the offer. Interestingly, however, mistrust between politicians sometimes creates some rare windows of opportunity, which could lead to a major breakthrough in inter-Korean relations.

No sooner did South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se call upon North Korea to make some steps to resume economic cooperation in Kaesong then Pyongyang proposed the return of South Korean managers to the ill-fated Industrial Complex. The South has all reason to fear the abduction or usage of its citizens for propaganda campaign, but this visit could be helpful in minimizing financial losses through the conservation of the abandoned facilities until times are better.

This informal meeting could also be used as a second track dialogue opportunity to improve the atmosphere for government-level negotiations. Will South Korea use this occasion to break the vicious circle of mistrust with North Korea? The moment of truth is coming for President Park’s ‘Trustpolitik’.





North Korea Threat: is it cooling?

11 04 2013

NK missile launch drills (By Steven Borowiec, Chrisian Science Monitor, 10 April 2013) North Korea threat of missile launch continued to preoccupy the region today, which was the deadline North Korea gave for foreigners to leave South Korea to avoid conflict. But nothing happened.

North Korea picked Wednesday April 10 as the day by which foreign embassies in Pyongyang should submit evacuation plans, foreigners should leave South Korea, and South Korean workers should leave the now barely functioning Kaesong Industrial Complex, hinting at a provocation that could bring the area into a state of conflict.

Though North Korea has threatened South Korea many times in the past, this time analysts are viewing the situation differently, seriously considering the possibility of a large-scale provocation from the North. North Korea is believed to have moved two Musudan missiles to its eastern coast last week, leading many to predict an imminent missile launch. South Korean and US defense forces responded by upgrading their military surveillance postures looking for signs of a North Korean rocket launch.

But as the day came and went with no observed action, it raised the question: Have North Korea’s heated rhetoric and threats been bluffs? “The general principle is to escalate tensions in order to later be able to negotiate from a position of strength,” says Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at Australian National University.

Musudan missiles have a range of about 1,875 miles, meaning they could reach anywhere in South Korea, Japan, or the US territory of Guam. But as the Musudan missiles have never been flight-tested by North Korea, their launch might be unlikely, as the North would be wary of the loss of face that would come with an unsuccessful launch attempt.

According to analysts, the raising of tensions may be a deliberate ploy to create an atmosphere of nervousness about North Korea’s next move and thereby strengthen Pyongyang’s hand when it comes time to negotiate next with the international community. North Korea, for example, raised eyebrows with seemingly irrational acts like pulling workers out of the joint North-South Kaesong economic industrial park, an important source of revenue for the cash-strapped country.

According to Mr. Petrov, this type of short-term move could pay off down the road when North Korea seeks aid or economic assistance. Hostile rhetoric can also contribute to more important ends like rallying citizens around an ideology of confrontation with enemies, particularly the US and South Korea. “North Korea’s leadership is willing to do things that may be self-harming in the short term. Money is not the most important thing to them. Things like maintaining their system, the stability of the leadership, the isolation of the people from other sources of information, those are the most critical things,” says Petrov.

In a New York Times opinion piece on Tuesday, Kookmin University professor Andrei Lankov wrote, “Put bluntly, North Korea’s government hopes to squeeze more aid from the outside world. Of late, it has become very dependent on Chinese aid, and it wants other sponsors as well.”

Today in Seoul, the US Department of State reiterated its position that there was no reason for US citizens to expect any special danger in South Korea, in a statement that read, “North Korea’s reported ‘advice’ to foreigners that they depart South Korea only serves to unnecessarily and provocatively escalate tensions.”

Still, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a parliamentary hearing today, “according to intelligence obtained by our side and the US, the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high.” Mr. Yun added that a missile launch could still come “at any time.”

South Korea’s police raised their state of terror alert one level from “attention” to “caution” out of concern for a possible North Korean terrorist attack.

Dates and numbers have great symbolic importance to North Korea, so Pyongyang often schedules what Washington calls “provocative acts” around holidays and important political events. Some are eying the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the state’s founder and the current leader’s grandfather, on April 15.

Also on Wednesday, the South Korean government announced that it had determined that North Korea was behind cyber-attacks that disrupted the systems of several banks and broadcasters on March 20. This has fed speculation that North Korea will increasingly use asymmetric tactics that are still harmful but avoid direct military conflict, where it is at a significant disadvantage.