Lighter touch to the Korean issue needed

12.03.2014 - Tony Henderson

Lighter touch to the Korean issue needed
(Image by Driedprawns wikipedia)

What to do about North Korea, how to penetrate the untruths, what to propose that will lead to the best scenario of North and South Korea integration, the release from any need of occupying troops from foreign soils, and the dismantling of the nuclear weapons programmes of all sides – the US with close to 1000 strategic nuclear warheads at launch-ready status – those of North Korea, a not-so mere handful?

One commentator has it that only by North Korea arming itself with bargaining nuclear bombs can a plan of universal dismantling of all nuclear weapons begin, which might possibly be the best light anyone has ever placed on North Korea having nuclear weapons, seeing that in the end all will be outlawed, but that is a long shot indeed.

Looking into this issue journalist Mike Chinoy who wrote the book Meltdown has detailed the negotiations between Big Power USA and the two Koreas plus Japan and China in regard to the North Korea nuclear issue. That writer gives more details than really needed to see what’s been the problem in the past but rereading like examples of how talks went from neutral to positive, to negative and thence went on a recurring cycle that led everyone nowhere has been the bane and the barrier. By the final pages there is no doubt the USA hawks constantly beat down the USA doves and we see the results today.

It could have been so different given the good faith efforts of the likes of Kim Dae-jung, elected South Korea’s president in 1997 and a long time dissident. Kim had survived several attempts on his life by government agents. In 1981 he had been tried and condemned to death on sedition charges by military dictator Chun Doo-hwan; his execution was prevented only by the last minute intervention of the Reagan administration.

Kim proposed a radical shift in South Korea’s previously hard-line approach to the North. Instead, he advocated what became known as the “Sunshine policy.” Underpinned by the belief that South Korea would not be able to handle the influx of refugees and possible internal instability that would follow the collapse of North Korea. Kim sought to engage Pyongyang through expanded trade and economic ties and increased people-to-people contact. Kim loosened restriction of South Korean investment in the North and boosted humanitarian aid.

Then there was Roh Moo-hyun – a liberal human rights activist, labour lawyer, and longtime dissident, who campaigned with a promise not to ‘kow-tow’ to the Americans. He called for continued engagement with North Korea and more independence from the United States.

Mike Chinoy reports Roh describing the North’s nuclear programme as less a threat than “a political card to secure their political regime and to secure economic assistance for implementing reforms and opening up. I don’t think it is an accurate description or accurate presumption to consider North Korea’s nuclear ambitions as a possible, usable tool. Common sense tells us that it is just trying to deter the possible attacks from United States by having a nuclear weapon and by guaranteeing its security.”

On the Japanese side Yasuo Fukuda replace the hard-line Shinzo Abe as prime minister in 2007, as a moderate he gave a lighter touch to the Korean issue.

Junichiro Koizumi – at one stage early on announced plans to proceed with normalization talks with North Korea because he “judged that taking the first major step of moving from an adversarial relationship to a cooperative one would be in the best interests of Japan.”

As Chinoy reports: “In 2002 Koizumi invested enormous political capital in a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea. Despite his personal friendship with President Bush, the Japanese prime minister, in stark contrast to the U.S. approach, had flown to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong ll to sign a document dubbed the Pyongyang Declaration, setting the stage for further negotiations on normalising a long-tortured relationship – a development Koizumi believed was critical to the stability of Northeast Asia.”

The US officials had their worthies tackling the ‘problem’ of North Korea, Bill Clinton among them, but the hawks constantly defeated each and every move of reconciliation by those who saw resolution through negotiation and dialogue. Christopher Hill can be mentioned as another. He complained that negotiating with the North Koreans was often less fraught than dealing with the hard-liners of late 2006 and early 2007 – during the George Bush Jr. years (January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009).

Then, on the South Korean side, came Lee Myung-bak – a hardliner, but now it is the turn of Park Geun-hye, eleventh and current President of South Korea, since 2013, of the Saenuri Party. She is the first woman to be elected as President in South Korea. Her parents, the autocratic Park Chung-hee and Yuk Young-soo, with father a Korean general and statesman who led South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979.

Senior Park had legitimised his administration using the provisions laid down in the state of emergency laws dating back to the Korean War, he failed to address the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press, his security service, the KCIA, retained broad powers of arrest and detention; with many of Park’s opponents held without trial and frequently tortured.

With that legacy to overturn Ms Park has showed a more liberal tone so far.

Extracts from her speech to a joint session of the USA Congress in 2013 tell of her formal stance toward North Korea, and Northeast Asia: “The Republic of Korea will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. Pyongyang’s provocations will be met decisively…

“At the same time, I will not link humanitarian aid provided to the North Korean people, such as infants and young children, to the political situation. And with the trust that gradually builds up, through exchange, through cooperation, we will cement the grounds for durable peace and, eventually, peaceful reunification…


“Asia suffers from what I call “Asia’s paradox”: the disconnect between growing economic interdependence, on the one hand, and backward political, security cooperation on the other. How we manage this paradox – this will determine the shape of a new order in Asia. Together, we must meet these challenges. And so I propose an initiative for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia. We cannot afford to put off a multilateral dialogue process in Northeast Asia.”

Of course it can be said ‘talk is cheap’ but there is a strong wish by many on the Korean Peninsular to march forward with acts that bring unity across that divide. With a single and happily unified Korea, it would make sense for China, Korea and Japan to be much closer which would negate any need for any USA pivot.

Asia is big enough to look after itself and without the USA fears – which can be said are unfounded – of some strange attack on its far away nation it can withdraw its armaments and troops, and bases, and redirect its energies to nuclear and conventional disarmament to the betterment of all countries in the world under threat due to its War on Terror.


Categories: Asia, Opinions, Politics
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