[Viewpoint] Harare’s lessons for North Korea

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[Viewpoint] Harare’s lessons for North Korea

The photos of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il wearing a big smile after the Cheonan sinking have drawn the attention of South Koreans.

There is news that Hyundai Asan is facing a crisis because North Korea froze and seized its properties on Mount Kumgang. It makes us depressed and voices grow louder asking for retaliation against the North.

Nevertheless, even if it turns out that North Korea was behind the sinking of the South Korean naval ship, military retaliation does not seem the right thing to do. Hwang Jang-yop, a former senior North Korean official who defected to South Korea, said we should not resort to military retaliation because that is exactly what the North wants. It is easy to start a war but it is not easy to stop it.

It’s a pity that North Korea still sticks to its self-destructive ways. If North Korea thought it could push around Hyundai by seizing its properties, it is mistaken. Pyongyang overlooked how an energy shortage in China is benefiting Hyundai right now.

Because of a serious drought in the northern area of China, it is difficult to generate water power there. This is having an adverse effect on southern China, which is the manufacturing export base. The Chinese government is mobilizing ships to supply thermal power. Huge amounts of coal and other resources are being transported by sea from north to south.

Thanks to this, the Baltic Dry Index, which measures global shipping volume, has doubled. With Hyundai Merchant Marine benefiting from this, the Hyundai group is doing well. Moreover, the North Korean business accounts for only 1 percent of total sales for the Hyundai group.

If the Cheonan incident was a North Korean provocation, the regime made another mistake.

In April, the two Koreas normally hold negotiations to settle such matters as the South’s supply of fertilizer to the North, which needs it before mid-June when the rice planting season is over. Seoul provides 300,000 tons of fertilizer each year to the North, which accounts for 60 percent of the North’s fertilizer needs.

According to South Korea’s Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the lack of fertilizer would reduce North Korea’s rice production by around 500,000 tons per year. Due to the Cheonan incident, it is highly unlikely that North Korea will get fertilizer from the South this year.

North Korea lacks some 150 tons of rice every year anyway and another difficult period is looming. Kim Jong-il once said his heart breaks to see his people eat dried corn instead of rice for meals. It looks like his heart will be broken even further.

Not long ago I warned that North Korea was becoming the Zimbabwe of Asia. President Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years and has driven out foreign capital and seized farms. Two currency reforms failed and an excessive amount of banknotes were printed. Inflation soared by over 2 billion percent.

Mugabe used violence to threaten companies to manufacture goods for half the usual prices but factories went bankrupt, causing shortages. Some 90 percent of the 13 million population was unemployed.

With its move to seize properties, which violates international norms, North Korea has crossed the line. No one will want to invest in the communist hermit country. North Korea must learn a lesson from Zimbabwe, which has recently changed its tune.

Mugabe decided to ban the circulation of the country’s currency - the Zimbabwe dollar - and replace it with foreign currencies such as the U.S. dollar and the euro to achieve monetary stability.

Early this year he said that his country would no longer sell illegal diamonds and promised to improve human rights in his country.

Hostile foreign attitudes toward the country are beginning to relax. Zimbabwe is gradually becoming more stable. The country is now excited, hoping that its economy will be boosted thanks to this year’s FIFA World Cup in neighbouring South Africa.

Amartya Sen, the Indian economist who won a Nobel Prize, said food issues around the world are affected by political issues. Wrong politics give rise to food shortages and food shortages create political crises.

That is what is happening in North Korea. The country has made bad moves for itself, finding itself pushed into a corner.

Because of the Cheonan tragedy South Korea has no choice but to cooperate with the international community to put pressure on the North.

China has risen to be a global power and it will difficult for it to side with the North explicitly.

The recent move on Mount Kumgang was a very bad decision by North Korea.

Although Pyongyang may lose face, it is best to come back as soon as possible across the line that it has crossed. China shows the way ahead for North Korea to do this.

North Korea can also learn a lot from Zimbabwe. Kim Yong-nam, the chairman of the Presidium of Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, visits the African country quite often. Additionally, North Korea’s national football team is now holding a special training session there.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Lee Chul-ho
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