Denunciation does not help

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Denunciation does not help

In a joint New Year’s editorial in the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea abruptly called for a pullout of the U.S. forces in South Korea, ratcheting up criticism against the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration. That marks a sharp contrast with its earlier position, which emphasized dialogue between South and North Korea. The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland also condemned the South - targeting our government’s partial restriction on visits to Pyongyang to express condolences for the death of Kim Jong-il.

Pyongyang’s move - the first official condemnation of the government since Kim’s funeral - was not what the Lee administration expected after having allowed Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, and Hyun Jeong-eun, Hyundai Group chairwoman, to visit the North and pay respects to Kim.

Responding to Pyongyang’s aggressive stance, a wide spectrum of opinions were voiced in the South. Some expressed outrage by saying, “Pyongyang still has not corrected its bad habits.” North Korea experts, however, generally agree that such hostility is a mere “reflection of what Pyongyang faces after Kim’s death.” Cho Dong-ho, an Ewha Womans University professor of North Korean studies, interpreted it as a preliminary warning aimed at averting a potential tension-building move by Seoul and Washington. Koh Yu-hwan, a Dongguk University professor, interpreted Pyongyang’s move as an attempt to augment domestic pride by adhering to a hardline stance toward the South.

Some experts regard it as a reflection of the North’s “paradoxical” rhetoric. In fact, Pyongyang often took hardship as an opportunity for solidarity by taking a hawkish position toward its counterpart, as it did after Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, when it did not soften its hardline stance at all during the regime crisis.

The Lee administration’s expression of hope for the North’s stability, despite its ferocious denunciation, is based on more than 20 years of experience with the North. The Ministry of Unification assessed that Pyongyang’s tone of renunciation does not necessarily mean an immediate and radical departure from its earlier stance, which hints that the government does not see its future relationship with Pyongyang as necessarily negative.

But Pyongyang’s resorting to blaming its counterpart immediately after Kim’s funeral is nonsensical. If it really suffers from insurmountable economic plight, it is better to seek help from its southern brethren than snub us.
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