[Viewpoint]South’s support helps North break pactSince the nuclear agreement with North Korea on Feb. 13, we have held a vague expectation that things would change after 60 days. The deadline for the initial steps toward denuclearization was last Saturday, and nothing had changed regarding the North Korean nuclear problem. There were only a lot of contacts and exchanges of words.
North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, permit the re-entry of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to North Korea to confirm the process and hold discussions on the list of nuclear programs that the North would report to the participants of the six-party talks “within 60 days.”
Now that the 60-day promise is broken, we can see that two strange things are happening.
One is that the problem related to the North Korean accounts at Banco Delta Asia ― which is not found in the nuclear agreement, nor has it anything to do with the North Korean nuclear problem ― is attracting the attention of the whole world.
It is true that the United States promised behind the scenes to solve the problem related to the bank on condition that North Korea carries out its nuclear agreement. Now we know that the North’s negligence of its obligation under the agreement has to do with the delayed resolution of the accounts at the bank. However, the insistence that the financial problem should be resolved first was put forth by North Korea.
The other is that although the future of the Feb. 13 nuclear agreement is not clear because the deadline was not met, not a single country rebuked North Korea or expressed concern about the future prospects of the agreement. It seems that the countries involved are only concerned about salvaging the atmosphere of dialogue with North Korea, which took a lot of hard work to create.
If the unexpected obstacle created by the North Korean accounts at Banco Delta Asia is removed belatedly and North Korea puts into action what it has promised, the controversy over the implementation of the agreement will be settled within 60 days.
But we must take the Banco Delta Asia incident as an indicator to see the reality surrounding North Korea a little more clearly.
The amount of money frozen at the Macao bank, $25 million, is far less than the fortune of a rich man in South Korea. North Korea is trying to regain this money as if the fate of the country depended on it. This indicates that North Korea is a country where power is so personalized that the retrieval of its highest leader’s slush fund is a top-priority diplomatic goal.
On March 14, the United States paved the way for the North to withdraw money frozen at the Macao bank by officially announcing the results of its investigation on the North Korean accounts at the bank.
However, one month has passed without any action taken to withdraw the North Korean funds from the bank, because an “illegal funds” label was attached to the money. The U.S. sanctions that hinder the Chinese and Macao banks from handling funds tainted as “illegal” has been an obstacle to reaching a solution.
One thing we should not overlook here is that North Korea has not even learned international practices in basic financial transactions in banking institutions.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that all 52 North Korean accounts at the Macao bank are borrowed-name accounts of the North’s government-affiliated trading companies and banks. It may be too much to expect for a state where law evasions and expediency are normal to carry out rational negotiations and implement agreements.
If North Korea carries out the February agreements one-by-one starting this week, it is not because of the rationality of the nation as we generally expect, but because of the rationality of the survival of its regime. The rationality seen from our side rewards North Korea for each action it carries out. The rationality conceived by the North Korean authority now is gaining maximum rewards while taking action within the bounds of the agreement.
In the agreement signed on Feb. 13, nothing is mentioned of nuclear warheads or the weapons-grade plutonium that the North possesses.
If the North’s calculation is both to receive material support and maintain its nuclear status at the same time, the goal of the six-party talks is lost and the talks participants themselves are in a state of self-hypnosis.
It is hard to say definitely whether North Korea will ever change its determination to become a nuclear state, holding on to its nuclear weapons until the end.
However, the attitude of our government, which is pouring out various aid programs for the North while trusting only in the goodwill of North Korea since the nuclear agreement in February, is an obstacle in itself that interferes with the implementation of the agreement and prevents a proper solution to the North Korean nuclear problem from being reached.
The greater the material support from South Korea, the more North Korean-style rationality will be strengthened and the larger its demands for each action will be. We must remain cool-headed.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Tae-hyo