By Dr. Abdul Ruff
The Korean Peninsula has been one of major conflict regions and it looks the situation might get better in the days to come with foes trying to be temporary friends with some vague blessings from USA, among others. The latest escalation in tension between North and South Koreas comes amid speculation that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il may have suffered from a serious stroke, though the North has insisted he is in good health and still firmly in charge. Recently, North Korea accused the South of sending an agent to try to assassinate its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il.
Relations between the Koreas have become increasingly strained since February when President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul, pledging to get tough with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program. Recently North Korea threatened to reduce the South to rubble unless it stopped activists sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets attached to balloons into the communist state.
North Korea announced that it would close the land border and cut non-military phone links with South Korea. On 1 December, North Korea began enforcing stricter border controls with the South, because of what it called “relentless confrontation” from Seoul. In November 2008, North Korea’s army told the South “to strictly restrict and cut off all the overland passages” across the fortified border from 1 December. A Red Cross office in the North with the only civilian phone link will shut. The move will be a blow to inter-Korean relations which have deteriorated since South Korean conservative President Lee Myung-bak came to office in February 2008. It is impossible to verify the North’s claims, but the two nations are known to actively spy on each other, and there have been assassination attempts by both sides in the past. The border closure decision had been taken because “reckless confrontation” from South Korea was “beyond the danger level”. A UN human-rights investigator strongly criticized North Korea, urging it to end public executions and provide food for the people not just the elite. And it comes despite some progress in international negotiations over dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program.
Since Korea’s division, the South Korea has developed into one of Asia’s most affluent countries. The North is communist state with a lot of poverty. The Republic of Korea was proclaimed in August 1948 and received UN-backed support from the US after it was invaded by the North two years later. The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace agreement leaving South Korea technically at war for more than fifty years.
South Korea, from where the incumbent UN Secretary General, Ban ki-Moon hails, is economically better off than its northern counter part and a close ally of the Western anti-communist, anti-socialist regimes.
Nuclear Issue: Progress & Speculation
There has been much ado about nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, though world has not yet become nuclear-disarmed totally. USA is deadly against North Korea possessing nuclear arms. Upon a prolonged coercion and pressure form USA and other nuclear powers, North Korea eventually declared to go denuclear shortly in favor of benefit packages from USA and others.
In October 2008 Washington has removed North Korea from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism (axis of evils or rogue states), US officials have confirmed. A US State Department official said the deal was reached after North Korea agreed to provide full access to its controversial nuclear program. Under the latest accord, North Korea will allow nuclear experts to take samples and conduct forensic tests at all its declared nuclear facilities and undeclared sites, on mutual consent The US blacklisting has been a major factor leading to deadlock over North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said North Korea would resume its disablement of nuclear facilities.
North Korea said last year it would give up its nuclear program in return for aid and diplomatic concessions, but progress towards dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear reactor has been patchy. This disablement was agreed to in 2007, but the process has recently reversed with North Korea threatening to restart its Yongbyon reactor. The agreement, giving the Bush administration a much-needed foreign policy advance in its final months, was opposed and condemned by many at home.. The North will also allow inspectors to verify that it has told the truth about transfers of nuclear technology and an alleged uranium program – which North Korea has always denied. North Korea began disabling its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in August, but more recently it has made moves to reassemble the plant after Washington refused to remove it from the terror sponsors’ list. In other provocative steps, it expelled UN inspectors and test-fired short-range missiles, heightening tensions with the US.
The US deletion announcement of North Korea from the “terror list” comes after a visit to Pyongyang by US envoy Christopher Hill, and days of talks between the US and its negotiating partners China, South Korea, Russia and Japan. Together with North Korea, they have been involved in long-running six-party talks over the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Tokyo had raised objections because North Korea has not resolved issues related to its abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. But removing North Korea from the US blacklist has been treated with skepticism by some conservative Republicans. “I expect the administration to explain exactly how this new verification agreement advances American interests and those of our allies before I will be able to support any decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” Republican senator John McCain he said.
South Korean ‘plot’
Recently, North Korea accused the South of sending an agent to try to assassinate its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il. It said the man crossed the border earlier this year and had been planning to use poison to kill Kim. The man Ri to conduct a “terrorist mission” under orders from South Korea’s intelligence agency, who is now under arrest, was described by Pyongyang as a North Korean citizen who had received training in the South. “The organization sent him with speech and acoustic sensing and pursuit devices for tracking the movement of the top leader and even violent poison,” the statement said.
Kim, who is 66 and reportedly suffering from heart disease and diabetes, has not been seen at key events in recent months. Kim’s reported illness comes as international negotiations continue over North Korea’s nuclear program. Lee says he is reviewing a raft of cross-border projects agreed in historic summits in 2000 and 2007, and has linked aid to progress on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. The North cited the Lee’s government’s “anti-North Korean moves” as its reason for speaking out in a statement, saying relations have reached “an extremely reckless and dangerous phase”.. South Korea’s main intelligence agency has denied any involvement in the alleged plot. The North’s claim comes at a time of worsening relations between the two Koreas, as well as continued speculation about the health of Kim.
Despite the hostile turn in inter-Korean relations, North Korea has continued to make progress in six-nation talks over its nuclear program despite frequent setbacks. It says it is disabling its main nuclear plant at Yongbyon after the US removed the North from a blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism. South Korea has funded the Kaesong industrial complex just over the border in the North, and a ban on border crossings would make it very difficult for the plant to continue operating. Some 30,000 North Korean workers are employed by South Korean companies at the complex, and jobs there are highly prized.
The Seoul government is facing domestic and foreign criticism for being too easy on North Korea. It wants to show that its policy of reconciliation is bearing fruit. South Korea has become accustomed to paying for even small, symbolic concessions from its impoverished neighbor. Eighty-million dollars might seem a lot of money to pay for a short train journey. The $80m aid package for the train test was given in the form of materials for North Korea’s light industry. But that is in effect what South Korea paid to the North Koreans for permission to test the rail links they have been building through the heavily-fortified demilitarized zone.. It set the tone in 2000 when it paid nearly $500m for the privilege of a first summit meeting between the two leaders. On 17 May 2007 two trains crossed the military demarcation line – from the north and the south – for the first time in 56 years.
Relations with its northern neighbor North Korea remain a major concern in Seoul, particularly over the North’s fragile economy and its nuclear ambitions. South Korea has resisted international calls for sanctions against the North and since the late 1990s it has pursued a “sunshine” policy of engagement. This has involved aid – including shipments of fertilizer and rice – reunions between North and South Koreans, tourist projects and economic cooperation.
Economy & Reform
President Lee Myung-bak of the GNP took office nearly a year ago, vowing to make the passage of economic reforms a priority. Local media said Lee was considering a cabinet shake-up, and there has been speculation it could include economic-related portfolios. The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) in South Korea, which has a solid majority in parliament, wants to pass quickly 85 reform measures, including sweeping tax cuts, easing bank ownership regulations and privatizing state-run firms. GNP floor leader Hong Joon-pyo told reporters he wants to start a new parliament session on Friday and approve contentious legislation such as the U.S. trade deal by the end of the month. The opposition is seeking longer delays.
Though the South Korean economy is now the third largest in Asia and the 13th in the world, the high levels of foreign debt held by the country’s banks have left them exposed to the fallout from the global credit crisis. A multi-party political system was restored in 1987, and President Roh Tae-Woo launched an anti-corruption campaign against both his own party and his political predecessor.
South Korean opposition MPs said on Jan7 they would end a sit-in protest at parliament and pass a number of reforms the ruling party says are needed to steer the export-driven economy through the global financial crisis. The opposition has paralyzed parliament for about three weeks by occupying the main chamber and other facilities to physically block votes on scores of reform bills as well as a free trade pact with the USA. Chung Se-kyun, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said “We expect our decision to lead to the normalization of parliament”. But Chung said he wanted a delay in voting on contentious bills such as the U.S. trade deal and a measure to revamp media ownership rules. His party was ready to pass dozens of non-controversial bills by the end of the current session, he said. Opposition legislators have said they want to block economic reforms they see benefiting big conglomerates and the rich. They also believe the U.S. trade deal will hurt farmers who will lose protection due to market-opening provisions.
A legislative steering committee met for the first time since mid-December to clear the way for non-controversial bills that could be brought to a vote as early as 07 Jan Wednesday. Chung said the opposition could vote on several dozen of the measures proposed by the GNP, without mentioning specific bills. Among the reforms it sees being approved this week are measures to help small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-up firms. The presidential Blue House has also denied any reshuffle was planned.
Studies have said the U.S. trade deal, struck in 2007 and yet to be approved by lawmakers in the United States either, would increase the $78 billion a year in two-way trade with South Korea by about $20 billion. The vote on the deal in the U.S. Congress is not expected to come for several months. The deal faces a rough ride in a new Congress that is seen as more protectionist. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has said parts of it need to be revised, especially the auto trade provisions. But there has been growing public anger in South Korea at the parliament impasse as well as frustration among business leaders at the political obstacles to pushing through economic reforms. Some Banks, including UBS, have warned South Korea’s economy would probably shrink by as much as 3 percent in 2009.
Post-script: Uncle Sam’s Role
USA decides what is good for the entire world and what is not. Colonialism, imperialism and state terrorism, accordingly, are good, but communism socialism and freedom fighting are bad. Islam is bad but Christianity and Judaism are good. State terrorism is good but non-state retaliatory violence is bad. All those who support the USA are good, but one who opposes it is bad and should be “deleted” forthwith.
So, now North Korea is no more a rogue state as per US records.. It is funny the USA and its allies in the West and East have not openly admitted a fact that they are indeed global terrorists without being in any list.
The demilitarized zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea is the world’s most heavily-fortified frontier. But the US, which maintains tens of thousands of soldiers in South Korea, is pulling its forces away from the front line and plans to reduce troop numbers.. USA is unhappy over emerging rapprochement between the former cold war foes. But, under pressure form Washington, South Korea is directly wooing the Northern neighbor to wind up communist shop and embrace capitalism and become “normal” and “democratic”.
Although South Korea, a US ally, is growing frustrated waiting for progress on the nuclear dispute, it played vital role in cooling the tempers of North Korea and come to terms with USA. Even South Korea’s opposition conservatives are showing signs of going soft on the North. The nationalists in the Blue House [the presidential mansion] want to make haste with the North as fast as they can. South Koreans are aware that the road to reconciliation will be long, difficult and expensive. Seoul should never forget that the present inter-Korean relations are at the crucial crossroads of existence and total severance.
North Korea is keen to defend its socialist goals and avoid Seoul’s avenues that undermine the system’s positive gains. While USA wants South Korea to pull its northern neighbor down to the so-called ‘democratic” makeup show mingled with rampant corruption. After the fall of the Soviet system, China, a UNSC veto wielding power, still resists the market mechanisms and continues to stay on the course, albeit with reduced resolve. Apart from USA, EU also pressures for making North Korea a humble state to fall inline with the rest of the world led by the USA. Obviously, Pyongyang wants to come off the US list in order to receive international aid and loans, and as a step towards its diplomatic rehabilitation but does show any interest to leave its ideological platform. After all USA, and its allies, do not subsidize socialist or communist economies.
North Korea is struggling to improve the life conditions of its people. On its part, South Korea sees a direct confrontation with a heavily-armed and now “nuclear neighbor” unproductive and cold war machinations are seen as out of the question for South Korea, and collapse would be an economic disaster. South is still anxious, rather more anxious than the North, to see progress on bilateral relations. All participants in Korean peninsula re keen to make the region nuclear-free and, if possible, weapons free, but will that be a realistic goal?