Park’s gains, Kim’s lossesThe results of the high-level inter-Korean talks are being criticized by both the extreme right and the extreme left. According to opinion polls, though, 65 to 70 percent of the public finds them satisfactory. How about the foreign media, which pays attention to both the extreme right and the extreme left whenever a major incident happens? The Washington Post reported that the talks between South and North Korea seemed to be Seoul’s victory. Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that Kim Jong-un showed vulnerability over propaganda blasted by loudspeakers at the border. Pyongyang’s admission of regret for land mine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers was also considered noteworthy.
Why do the far right and far left criticize President Park Geun-hye? The far right argues that she barely passed a test of leadership when she should have aced it. After cornering North Korea, they think that a clearer apology and promise of no further provocation were missing. In contrast, the far left was embarrassed after supporting Pyongyang’s side and they are jealous of Park’s success.
North Korea’s provocation was successful. They secretly infiltrated the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and buried land mines. However, the explosion captured on a thermal observation device allowed the public to witness a cowardly act of terrorism, and fellow soldiers worked together to rescue and transport the injured soldiers.
Not so long ago, “Northern Limit Line,” a movie about the Yeonpyeong naval clash, sold six million tickets. The internal discord that North Korea had hoped for did not happen.
On Aug. 20, North Korea aimed at loudspeakers deployed along the border. A source from the Ministry of National Defense said that a 14.5mm antiaircraft gun was aiming at the loudspeaker, but the shell fell in the forest. Also, three 76.2mm Howitzer shells were fired. They landed beyond the last fence of the DMZ, near the minefields. The defense ministry official thinks that it was a calculated tactic to make it harder to recover evidence.
When wind blows, we can distinguish grass from trees. In the quasi-state of war, we confirmed three things. First of all, the Korea-U.S. alliance is valuable. The United States was the only one to be on our side at the critical moment. Park Geun-hye could remain firm because she could count on that solid alliance. Second, China has subtly changed its attitude after being so ambiguous between the two Koreas. China put pressure on the North secretly. We still need to see if it was a temporary shift before the Sept. 3 Victory Day celebration in Beijing or a more permanent change. Third, we confirmed the importance of soft power. The loudspeakers struck a soft spot of North Korea. We have lethal asymmetrical power now.
In return for stopping the loudspeaker campaign, Kim Jong-un lost many things. Pyongyang practically admitted to the land mine planting, which it had claimed to be a fabrication by Seoul. When the commander of the ROK 5th Corps and the commander of the 6th Infantry Division made retaliatory strikes with the K9 Thunder without consulting the Blue House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pyongyang had to come to the talk table. Park Geun-hye’s “respond first, report later” is a double-edged sword. It is fortunate that Kim Jong-un allowed high-level contacts to bring a breakthrough in diplomacy and inter-Korean cooperation.
In contrast, Park Geun-hye gained many things. Compared to the Jan. 21, 1968, Blue House attack, the axe murders at Panmunjom and the Gangneung submarine infiltration incident, the land mine provocation was not so serious. But Pyongyang expressed its regret for the incident. Park’s approval rating soared to 49 percent. It is confirmed once again that Park’s biggest ally is North Korea. The hostile symbiosis of South and North Korea is an inconvenient truth.
The biggest factor that prevented North Korea’s extreme choice can be found elsewhere. They are American, Chinese and Japanese tourists visiting South Korea. Unless Kim Jong-un is ready to fight the world, he cannot attack Seoul and the capital region.
Now, Seoul and Pyongyang should focus on talks. The lessons from the incident are two-sided. To Seoul, a lower limit for responses to provocations has been set. If North Korea provokes, the loudspeakers should be turned on, and intense retaliation would follow. North Korea cannot hope for internal discord in the South anymore, and no demonstration of power will provoke it. Pyongyang may be tempted to make riskier military ventures, it’s true. But peace has come finally, and sophisticated and refined risk control is needed more than ever.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 1, Page 34
*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho