[FOUNTAIN]Reading between the lines

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[FOUNTAIN]Reading between the lines

In March 1953, when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died, the antennae of the Western world was focused on one question: who will succeed him? At that time, the Kremlin was in the vortex of a power struggle. The Western intelligence network could not penetrate the Iron Curtain.
The clue was found from a single letter in a Soviet government organ. American scholar Myron Rush paid attention to how the title of Mr. Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the communist party, was written. The first letter in the “first secretary” alternated between a capital f and a small case f. It was not a mere typo. “F” and “f” indicated the rise and fall of Khrushchev. In 1955, when all the media consistently used “F,” Rush declared Khrushchev must have come into power. Mr. Rush’s deduction was right, indeed.
The Western world watched the Soviet media closely in order to understand the situation in the Kremlin. The intelligence work began with reading between the lines of Pravda, an official organ of the Communist Party. The approach developed into an academic specialty, called Kremlinology.
The approach on North Korea is not much different from Kremlinology. For example, when North Korea makes an official statement, they pay attention to who is issuing the statement. A statement by the republic government has the highest priority. It remains in the headlines and on the front page of North Korean papers for a few days. Both of the two proclamations to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty were made by the republic government. The second-highest urgency goes to the foreign ministry. The February 2005 declaration that North Korea had nuclear weapons was issued by the foreign ministry. The next is a statement by the foreign ministry spokesman, followed by an interview with government spokesman. North Korea’s politics are reflected on Kim Jong-il, chairman of the National Defense Commission. The power of his staff is directly proportional to the number of times each one accompanies the chairman.
Lately, however, Pyongyang watchers have been mystified as Pyongyang dresses its news with ambiguity. The nuclear energy reprocessing facility does not generate heat but produces smoke. Missiles are loaded on the launcher and fuel cans are left near the launcher for days. Has Pyongyang completed preparations? Are they going to launch the missiles? The ambiguity might be intended to maximize the cards in their hand, but it can also make the other side misunderstand intentions. North Korea should return to “Pyongyangology.”


by Oh Young-hwan

The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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