[Outlook]Here we go again

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[Outlook]Here we go again

These days, North Korea is working hard to heighten military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Late last year, Pyongyang blocked passage through the demilitarized zone. On Jan. 17, a military spokesman from the country said, “Now that traitor Lee Myung-bak and his group have opted for confrontation ... our revolutionary armed forces are compelled to take an all-out confrontational posture to shatter them.”

The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland declared that it would scrap the political and military agreements between the South and the North, along with the western sea border. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that Pyongyang would think about denuclearization after normalizing ties with Washington. Even then, denuclearization will be discussed not within the six-party framework but through talks among nuclear states, making it clear that it would continue to hold on to its nuclear weapons.

The North is also preparing to launch a Taepodong II missile. It is using the same brinkmanship it displayed with its (2006) nuclear test.

Is it true that President Lee’s hard-line North Korea policy evoked these extreme measures from North Korea, as Pyongyang and even some in our society maintain?

The Lee administration has a program that would provide economic support to boost North Korea’s national per capita income to $3,000 within 10 years, a policy some say causes confrontation due to the fact that it is based on strict reciprocity. The Lee administration has taken over the two previous administrations’ North Korea projects, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourism in Mount Kumgang and Kaesong. Trade between the South and the North is on the rise. Even on the day when a South Korean tourist was shot to death in Mount Kumgang, President Lee told the National Assembly that our government would abide by the June 15 and the Oct. 4 declarations.

North Korea’s extreme acts are not because of anything the South Korean administration is doing.

Sixteen years ago, the Bill Clinton administration was launched in the United States. During his election campaign and the transition period, Clinton’s team emphasized direct negotiations and incentives to the North. South Korea’s Kim Young-sam administration was itself then newly launched and had a friendly attitude toward the North. Former President Kim said in his inaugural speech that blood was stronger than political alliances and the North Korean prisoner Lee In-mo was repatriated to the North.

Pyongyang, however, said that it could destroy Seoul and boycotted negotiations with its southern neighbor. The North Korean military then declared a quasi-state of war and mobilized its troops. Soon, the country declared that it would break away from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintained that direct talks with Washington would be necessary to resolve its nuclear issues. It launched a Rodong missile towards Japan and finally succeeded in getting high-level talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

Exploiting the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula, Kim Jong-il was sworn in as chairman of the National Defense Commission of North Korea. The transfer of power was effected along with the military-first system that remains in place today.

Nowadays, North Korea’s behavior patterns are strikingly similar to those of 16 years ago.

While the newly inaugurated Obama administration emphasizes direct dialogue with Pyongyang, North Korea talks about military confrontation, creates tension and toys with its missile card. North Korea seems to view the launch of the Obama administration as a chance to make its wishes come true. As it has benefited from brinkmanship in the past, it wants to gain the upper hand in the early phase and achieve nuclear armament and normalization of ties with Washington at the same time, as Pakistan did.

With the upcoming Supreme People’s Assembly meeting, North Korea needs to prevent domestic unrest due to Kim Jong-il’s shaky health and to create a new way of transferring power. By creating tension on the Korean Peninsula, the North wants to ensure support from its people. It will dramatize the negotiation process with the United States.

North Korea’s maneuvers are too predictable. The problem is that both Seoul and Washington are used to them. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear that Washington can normalize ties with Pyongyang only after North Korea denuclearizes, and declared that North Korean companies found to spread weapons of mass destruction will be punished.

South Koreans who want to help North Korea are tired. They don’t want to offer more aid just because North Korea cries for it. Pyongyang must think seriously about how it is going to survive amid the global economic crisis.


*The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yun Deok-min
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