[Viewpoint] Pyongyang’s win is Seoul’s defeatTwo infamous strongmen - Kim Jong-il of North Korea and Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya - were in the world media’s spotlight last week. The leaders of autocratic military regimes have a lot in common, including their long-held power and anti-American stance. But they find themselves today in spots poles apart.
Qaddafi is more or less a captive on the run. His Tripoli headquarters has been toppled by rebel forces aided by NATO allies. Kim traveled in a special armored train for an eight-day transcontinental trip to Siberia and Manchuria. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev flew 5,000 kilometers to greet the North Korean leader in a Siberian city.
On his way back home, Kim stopped at a Chinese border city where he was greeted by several top Chinese Communist Party officials, including Hu Chunhua, secretary for Inner Mongolia, and Sun Zhengcai, secretary of the Jilin Provincial Committee. Hu and Sun are aspiring next-generation Chinese politicians whom Kim’s son and heir-in-waiting, Kim Jong-un, will have to address once he is in full power.
What happened to make the two leaders, both of whom established cults of personality in their countries, go separate ways? It may have been different choices made about weapons of mass destruction in the face of American pressure.
Qaddafi surrendered and ceased his weapons program in 2003 to become a legitimate member of the international community. He experimented with Libya’s economic and political model to set an independent model for Middle Eastern states but could not escape the fervent democratic wave that swept across despotic Arab countries.
North Korea’s Kim remains in power, armed with nuclear capabilities. The North participated in six-party talks on nuclear disarmament beginning in 2003 but nevertheless surreptitiously went on developing nuclear weapons, confounding and angering the South Korean government and the international community by conducting two nuclear tests. Skeptics say the six-party talks only bought time for Kim to pursue and sophisticate the regime’s nuclear weapons program.
Kim’s visit to Russia and China, taking place as Qaddafi’s demise became the highlight of the uprisings in the Middle East, mostly focused on fostering economic cooperation, including talks on a major gas pipeline project.
The main reason for the trip is to secure economic deals and promises that will ensure a steady flow of aid to sustain the impoverished nation, Zhang Liangui, professor of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, observed.
The renowned North Korea expert maintains that the North is unlikely to relinquish its nuclear ambitions. By restrengthening ties with traditional allies, Kim may be bidding for silent endorsements of its nuclear leverage, he said.
The fact that China and Russia - powerhouses in global security affairs - agreed to help North Korea economically and financially, even as the country remains under international sanctions and is unwilling to forsake its nuclear program, is a win for North Korea in its nuclear strategy. The fact that a party-loyal professor proclaims a victory for Pyongyang in its nuclear diplomacy and politics is a worrisome sign.
Pyongyang’s win implies defeat for the other five members of the six-party talks - and South Korea is the biggest loser. We must examine our position in nuclear diplomacy and ask ourselves where we stand.
Our top foreign official leisurely says “time is on our side” without presenting any other options. Kim Jong-il’s bulletproof train left Harbin carrying the regime leader in a jollier appearance than at the beginning of the trip last Saturday. South Koreans watching this sight somehow cannot shake off a sinking feeling.
*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Chang Se-jeong