[OUTLOOK]Choosing the wrong best friend

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[OUTLOOK]Choosing the wrong best friend

The aftermath of the North’s missile salvo is becoming even more serious. North Korea could launch more missiles, or even carry out nuclear tests. The United States is blocking all possible ways of transferring money to North Korea. Along with a United Nations resolution, Washington is putting pressure on companies and banks of all countries that have business transactions with North Korea to cut the relations. Japan has blocked money transfers to North Korea, banned a North Korean ferry from entering its ports, frozen North Korea’s assets and banned companies from having transactions with North Korea.
The hardest blow on North Korea was China’s approval of the UN resolution. As the only ally to North Korea, China has provided it with more than half the food and energy the North needs. It is North Korea itself that has made China change its stance.
North Korea-China relations these days are the worst since in June 1995. Back then, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il released a statement in the Rodong Sinmun, or Newspaper of the Workers that China had betrayed the spirit of socialist revolution by introducing a market economy. Although the head of North Korea depends heavily on China for the survival of his country, he recently told an American delegate that China was unreliable.
President Roh Moo-hyun is the only friend Mr. Kim has left. President Roh comprehends North Korea’s nuclear development programs as a means for its self-defense. After North Korea launched its missiles, he did not condemn North Korea. He instead criticized Japan for making a fuss, when the Japanese government convened an emergency meeting in the early morning.
On the same day that North Korea announced it would stop allowing separated family members in the two Koreas to reunite, President Roh criticized that “some people” had made overly sensitive reactions to the missile launches. Kim Jong-il may feel it was inexcusable for the South Korean president to prohibit sending shipments of rice and fertilizer only because of several missile launchings. But Mr. Kim should be grateful to Mr. Roh for working so hard to take the side of North Korea, when even China has turned its back to the North and criticizes it.
If desperate, even a mouse might attack a cat. There is no guarantee that North Korea wouldn’t take the extreme step of launching more missiles, or even nuclear tests, when it is desperate and helpless. That is gambling on life and death. That is a possibility that a leader of a country with a rational mind cannot even think of. But is Mr. Kim capable of rational thinking in a moment of crisis? The answer might be “no,” judging from past incidents that have involved North Korea.
North Korea fired its missiles over the East Sea (Sea of Japan) in the direction of Japan and the United States only to stir hard-line reactions from both countries. How would South Korea react if North Korea fired its missiles toward a southerly direction of the same sea?
This is an urgent situation. Washington and Tokyo ― on the premise of China’s participation, if not very actively ― believe that isolating North Korea economically is the only way to bring the country back to the six-party talks and to make it stop its gambling on missiles and nuclear weapons. The United States and Japan are likely to go ahead with measures against North Korea even without South Korea’s participation.
When Stuart Levey, the Department of Treasury’s undersecretary, visited South Korea, Washington could clearly see that it could not expect Seoul to cooperate on sanctions against North Korea.
South Koreans feel insecure. President Roh should come forward and present policies in accordance with this incident. What is a good method to check Washington and Tokyo, which are both speeding up imposing sanctions on Pyongyang?
If North Korea now wants to take revenge on South Korea, when it is actually Washington and Tokyo that Pyongyang has conflicts with, how can Seoul then explain the danger of additional missile launchings and persuade North Korea not to do so?
Since North Korea fired its missiles, President Roh has been seen as an irresponsible and near-sighted leader. Perhaps he cannot see the failure of his foreign affairs policy emphasizing self-reliance and the same national identity as North Korea. Because he has been looking at the world through the eyes of the North, he might have lost his ability to see North Korea through the eyes of the international community. He seems to have been trapped in his own net ― his emphasis on ideology when managing the country and recruiting his aides.
If this perception is wrong, Mr. Roh should present correct policies regarding North Korea, the United States and Japan. Although excessive reactions are problematic, as Mr. Roh said, it is not a good policy to be isolated from Washington and Tokyo and betrayed by Pyongyang.
The Blue House talks only about what not to do, instead of what to do. It is regrettable that five-party talks are the only thin hope left for us.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Young-hie
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