Questionable dreamsSeoul and Pyongyang are talking again after five years of estrangement since the 2010 family reunions. It’s been so long that South Korea is growing hopeful again. For decades, North Korea has been hiding its claws when talking. But the South still has illusions for inter-Korean talks. It is risky to have romantic hopes for the future of a nation, we need to ask more substantial questions about North Korea.
For example, is Kim Jong-un’s regime stable? In order to make the inter-Korean talks relevant, there has to be a core power group that will take accountability. The top three second-in-commands in the North are Hwang Pyong-so, head of the General Political Bureau of the Korea People’s Army, Minister of State Security Kim Won-hong and Secretary of the Workers’ Party Choe Ryong-hae. Hwang is also the first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, and Kim is the head of security for the Kim Jong-un regime. Choe is the designated envoy to meet Xi Jinping and Putin. However, are Kim Jong-un and the three men getting along?
Hwang, Kim and Choe were close to Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle. They had long worked together in the Workers’ Party or the National Defense Commission. They all know how each of them acted when Jang was purged. The three men are still powerful and have been promoted.
Can they trust each other? And can Kim trust them? Kim may think that they are his hunting dogs for now, but they can bite him anytime. Can the three men trust Kim? They may think that they could end up like Jang or Hyon Yong-chol any day. Can they make policy proposals to Kim Jong-un anyway?
For a peaceful resolution of inter-Korean tension, Kim Jong-un needs to embrace reform and openness. Is it possible? Deng Xiaoping succeeded in reform in 1978, and Gorbachev and Vietnam’s Communist regime opened up in 1986. China, Russia and Vietnam could change because they didn’t have a cult of personality and absolute corruption. A regime built on a personality cult and corruption cannot pursue reform and openness. When external influences come in, people realize they have been tricked and will rise against the power. Then the regime will fall. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il could not open up despite opportunities. When the Eastern European Communist bloc fell between 1989 and 1992, North Korea remained closed. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il had a solid power base but could not pursue reform and openness.
Can Kim go for reform when his power base is vulnerable? Without reform and openness, there’s only one purpose to talk. They want U.S. dollars, rice and fertilizer from the South to keep the regime going and develop nuclear weapons and missiles. It was the same for Kim Jong-il and Kim Il Sung. Despite the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in 1991, Kim Il Sung announced a nuclear project two years later. In 2000, Kim Jong-il took $450 million from the Kim Dae-Jung administration.
When the effect wore off, North Korea carried out the Yeonpyeong naval clash provocation in 2002. In 2007, Kim Jong-il got a big promise from President Roh Moo-hyun, but the Lee Myung-bak administration scrapped the agreement in 2008. Two years later, Kim Jong-il committed attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island.
What does Kim Jong-un want? Does he want reform and openness? No. The 31-year-old anxious leader wants money. He has to give presents to officials and food to the people to prove how capable a leader he is. And he needs money to complete the project of loading a nuclear warhead on a Scud missile.
Fortunately, inter-Korean talks can work like magic. If it works out well, he can clear all his worries. The Mount Kumgang tourism would bring $30 million a year. Lifting the May 24 sanctions would allow North Korea to sell minerals and fisheries products to the South. They can make $100 million a year by selling the sands on the Haeju shore and Sacheon River in Kaesong.
What does South Korea gain by paying such a price? If you think the money would be used to feed the starving people, you are dreaming.
The last question is on the attitude of South Korea. What does South Korea really want from the talks? Do we simply want peace, a life without tension and threat where men would play golf and woman would go shopping without worrying about provocation? Peace is a comfortable state. How about the sufferings of 25 million North Koreans? Let’s just say we’ll turn a blind eye. Then what about the nuclear weapons? If North Korea successfully loads a nuclear warhead on a Scud missile one day, should the South lie low with a nuclear presence in the North? Can South Korea turn on loudspeakers when the North has nuclear missiles?
There has never been a case in history where problems with a Communist regime rejecting reform and openness were solved through talks. The Kim Jong-un regime is no exception. The blame is on communism, not North Korea. It is the essence of communism.
Of course, we need to talk. But when talking to a Communist, you should watch out for the feet under the table, not the hands on the table. A strict awareness of the fundamental problems would help keep South Korea alert from hallucination.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 2, Page 35
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin