Mar 30 2014, 12:59pm CDT | by Forbes
The sequence again brings the Korean peninsula to the non-crisis point – that is, the state at which the rhetoric portends the worst though nobody thinks anything really awful will happen.
In the setting of North-South confrontation, however, the rising rhetoric on top of ongoing U.S.-South Korean war games and North Korean missile tests is a combustible mixture with a short fuse. North Korea is furious at UN Security Council resolutions denouncing the latest missile tests and sanctions still in place for its three underground nuclear tests, most recently at the height of the last Korean peninsula crisis in February of last year.
And then there was last week’s debate in the UN Human Rights Council upbraiding the North for all the evidence of horrific abuses presented in a 200,000-word report by a Commission of Inquiry. North Korea has repeatedly denounced the report, its UN ambassador saying, “Mind your own business,” after the Council called for charging those guilty of crimes against humanity.
All the sturm and drang, however, does not necessarily mean the confrontation has to go from bad to worse. President Park, enunciating her “Dresden Doctrine” in a speech at Dresden, Germany, before the weekend evoked memories of the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East and West Germany, saying “We too must tear down barriers” between the two Koreas, alluding, physically at least, to the demilitarized zone that’s divided the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War.
There was a distinct air of déjà vu as Park promised just about every form of aid for North Korea – humanitarian, nation-building, agriculture, pregnant mothers, infrastructure, telecommunications, you name it, it was on the list – but tied that potential bonanza to a familiar condition.
All North Korea has to do is “forgo its nuclear program” and South Korea “will offer its active support” – bring the North into the international financial system via the good offices of a Northeast Asia Development Bank, collaborate on heady economic schemes, set up offices in each other’s capitals. If all that sounds unrealistic, at least it’s preferable to a second Korean War as the basis for bringing the two “halves” of the Korean peninsula into a viable relationship with each other.
Considering all the surprises of modern Korean history, no one should rule out just about any kind of news, good or bad. Nonetheless, no one should forget that Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, soon after becoming president in 2008 promised a windfall of aid for the North if only they’d give up their nukes. North Korea almost at once took to excoriating him as just about the worst president in South Korean history.
Who’s to say Park won’t be more successful than Lee? Nobody should bet on it – or against it – any more than anyone should take odds on the North Korean regime’s chances of collapsing or staying in power for decades to come.
Since the North’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, did away with the man once seen as his mentor if not de facto regent, Jang Song-thaek, and purged a lot of others, he and/or his advisers do appear somewhat interested in getting along with their southern neighbor.
The real test will come after the annual U.S.-South Korean exercises end in April when the South pleads for yet another round of visits between aging members of families divided by the Korean War. Since North Korea finally agreed to a round of visit soon after the war games began, people are hoping they may even agree on a regular schedule of such gatherings – maybe once a month.
In the web of conflicting trends and emotions, renewed talks between North Korea and Japan are also portentous.
They’re talking about Japanese who Japan is convinced remain in the North after having been kidnapped off Japanese beaches more than 40 year ago. Many Japanese believe dozens remain in North Korea though the North has said the most it held was 13, eight of whom are said to have died. Among the latter, according to North Korea, is Megumi Yokota, whose daughter by a North Korean father was allowed to meet her Japanese grandparents recently in the Mongolia capital of Ulan Bator.
The North Korea-Japan talks may have greater meaning – an attempt by North Korea to improve relations with Japan while relying on China for most of its fuel, much of its food and overall military support.
North Korea may also want to pry apart the trilateral relationship among the U.S., Japan and South Korea. President Obama got President Park and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to meet and talk on the sidelines of the recent nuclear summit in the Hague. Though they failed to come to terms on bitter historical disputes, more trilateral talks are likely in the next few weeks.
How North Korea responds is thoroughly unpredictable. After Park, Abe and Obama met in the Hague, the North popped off a volley of missiles. That may had more to do with U.S.-South Korean war games than the talks, however, if the latest rhetoric is any indication./>/>
The UN Security Council condemns “our self-defensive rocket tests,” says the North’s foreign ministry, “while turning a blind eye to the nuclear war practice by the U.S. that triggered our act.”
Nothing new there – not even when the statement says darkly, “we have prepared various steps that the enemy can hardly imagine.” Meaningless big talk or a serious warning? No telling – though nothing North Korea-watchers haven’t heard before.
Source: Forbes Business
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