The ultimate candidate challenge
Kim Moo-sung, Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo fancy themselves as presidential candidates, but is any of them capable of resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis? Frankly, none seems capable. In fact, North Korea and its nuclear program is a Frankenstein that the political A-team of Niccolò Machiavelli, Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck would struggle to grapple with. A politician who truly dares to settle the nuclear tension has to risk his own neck — not just his political career. He must eradicate the four “mafias,” the biggest obstacles to a full resolution, and it would be a challenge even to God.
The first is the Pyongyang mafia, the hardliners in North Korea. They are the former partisans — mostly octogenarian — with full sets of decorations on their uniforms. They thrive on tension. Peace is poison for them. When Kim Jong-un considers talks, they unite to discourage him. If Kim adheres to the idea of talks, they would make a provocation, firing at the South near the demarcation line or the Northern Limit Line. If the South fires back, the tension escalates all at once, putting the Korean Peninsula on the brink of a war. Then it becomes impossible to push for talks. The Pyongyang mafia has maintained its vested interests for decades by creating tensions.
The second is the Chinese mafia. China’s shielding of North Korea and watering down of sanctions will continue as long as the Communist Party is in power. Ninety percent of the ships going in and out of North Korea are Chinese. These ships hide prohibited goods under United Nations sanctions or hazardous materials. Three years ago, the South Korean government searched a Chinese vessel entering the port of Busan based on a tip by a U.S. intelligence agency. The ship, which had just left North Korea, was loaded with dangerous materials used for nuclear weapons production. The next destination of this ship was Myanmar. China was helping North Korea’s nuclear proliferation.
Financial sanctions have become ineffective because of China. These days, North Korean companies earning foreign currency have disguised their nationalities as Chinese. The North Korean companies disguised as Chinese enterprises acquire luxury goods for Kim Jong-un, weapons and nuclear material. China gives tacit approval, knowing all about the unlawful activities. Asking China to punish North Korea is like asking the Sun to rise from the west.
The third is the American mafia. The United States wants to end North Korean nuclear crisis but is not willing to get its hands dirty. Knowing that China is only pretending, Washington asks Beijing to “play a constructive role.” The United States is lukewarm toward a secondary boycott, which would be the most effective tool to wear down North Korea. Unlike with Iran, Washington feels the method will be too much trouble to be used on North Korea.
A secondary boycott sanctions foreign companies that trade with North Korea, and these companies are mostly Chinese. The United States doesn’t want to be so harsh on Chinese companies when China is its biggest trade partner and buyer of its bonds. President Barack Obama had reasons not to mention North Korea in his recent State of the Union address, which came right after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test.
The last is the South Korean mafia. There are two factions. One thinks that North Korea is pure evil and the ousting of the Pyongyang regime is necessary. The other believes North Korea should be embraced regardless of its provocations or atrocities. The polar-opposite groups stir up Seoul’s North Korea policy every day. Politicians who have never given any thought to the issue are swayed by these groups. When an administration changes, North Korean policy changes.
Kim Moo-sung and Moon Jae-in are two of these politicians. While they are the leaders of the ruling party and the biggest opposition party, they’ve never presented a vision for resolution of the nuclear crisis. They’ve never contemplated the matter, so neither of them has any vision to offer. Ahn Cheol-soo is no different. The North Korean nuclear issue involves the competition for power between the United States and China, the Northeast Asian power game among China, Japan, Russia and the United States and inter-Korean discord. It is a complex problem that even someone with in-depth historical insight, a realistic international outlook and advanced diplomatic talents would have a hard time solving.
Do Kim Moo-sung, Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo have plans to fight and defeat the four mafias? If they really want to be the leader of this country, they need to make plans for a real showdown against them. If they are not confident, I would like to politely ask them to give up their presidential ambitions and leave politics. The Republic of Korea is a country in great peril and cannot afford to elect someone with no will or capability to stick out his own neck to resolve Korea’s greatest crisis.