[VIEWPOINT]The North fires, the South fiddles

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[VIEWPOINT]The North fires, the South fiddles

The aftershocks have continued to reverberate for a week after North Korea’s launch last week of seven missiles. North Korea has succeeded in shifting the world’s attention from Tehran to Pyongyang with a coup of fireworks on an early summer’s night. If Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s defense commission chairman, intended to let the world know “Iran is not the only problem, North Korea is an even more serious problem,” then he has attained his goal 100 percent.
If Mr. Kim intended to destabilize the international order in Northeast Asia, he has accomplished that goal to a certain degree. With internationalrelations as with people, the true nature of a relationship is revealed when there is a crisis.
As Northeast Asia’s instability comes to light, the powers in the region are busy forming a faction of their own. The United States and Japan are in cahoots with each other and North Korea seems to be supported by China and Russia. South Korea is in the uneasy situation of half-isolation. Between the maritime powers and the continental forces, it seems that South Korea is at a loss over which one to side with. It is no different from the situation at the end of the Joseon Dynasty, which became the arena of competition among the world powers.
As we can see from the words of Japan’s foreign minister, Daro Aso, who said jokingly, “I think I have to say thank you to Kim Jong-il,” the present situation is favorable to Japan whether North Korea succumbs to international pressure or not.
For the Japanese, the threat from North Korean missiles was already a pressing issue. And for Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who is likely to be the next prime minister, this is the chance of a lifetime. A strong response against North Korea will be beneficial not only for enhancing his image and increasing his political assets, but also to smooth Japan’s road toward becoming an ordinary country and a military power. For Mr. Abe, it is like killing two birds with one stone.
For the United States too, there is nothing disadvantageous. First of all, the North Korean long-range missile, Taepodong-2, is no threat to the United States. And Washington now has the chance to readjust its North Korea policy.
The burden of reviving the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear development program is now completely on China’s shoulders. Since China has expressed its opposition to the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution sanctioning North Korea, China has to take overall responsibility if it fails to induce North Korea to the negotiating table.
The United States can choose, after watching what China does with North Korea, to go to the Security Council if China fails to persuade the North, and jump on the bandwagon of success if it succeeds. If China fails to persuade the North to return but still chooses to exercise its veto power alone, Washington speculates the political burden on China will be too heavy even for China to bear.
So, Wu Dawei, the Chinese vice foreign minister who came to Pyongyang for a five-day visit to try to persuade North Korea’s leadership to return to the talks, has a heavy burden. The future of the North Korean missile crisis depends on his ability to accomplish his goal.
In the course of the current missile crisis, South Korea’s diplomacy has become an object of study among diplomats stationed in Seoul. Some diplomats even say South Korea is the most damaged victim of the missile launches. There are also many who say that it is difficult to understand why South Korea, which does not have a seat on the Security Council, publicly opposes adopting the resolution. They say that Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who is aiming to be the next secretary general of the United Nations, should know better than anyone that Chapter 7 of the Charter, which is quoted in the draft resolution, does not automatically lead to military sanctions.
What could be necessary at a time like this would be “strategic silence,” but South Korea has swiftly jumped on the same boat with China. It means South Korea can easily be put in a difficult position.
Diplomats in Seoul also say they cannot understand how the North Korean missile crisis became a diplomatic war between South Korea and Japan.
Although it is clearly excessive and wrong that Japan even mentioned a pre-emptive attack on North Korean missile sites, they say criticizing the Japanese response as “creating a fuss” can be interpreted as confusing the focus by escalating the conflict.
Instead of scolding a younger brother who broke the window glass of the next-door neighbor, it is like protesting against the neighbor for swearing at the brother.
There is also criticism that there is no diplomacy in South Korea.
Even if we put aside the Blue House, it is frustrating to see that even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where professional diplomats are gathered, does not take the proper action but makes unnecessary gestures. I wonder whether the words of encouragement of President George W. Bush that the “next UN secretary general will hail from Asia,” will be a consolation.

* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Bae Myung-bok
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