Fiery rhetoric across the Pacific pond about missiles and nukes have dominated discussions surrounding the Korean peninsula for months now. So, I have stayed away from the toxic topic framed by Kim Jong-un (Kim3) and his apparatchiks in Pyongyang. Having gone through the Korean War as a boy, I feel all the bellicose narratives polluting the air space, the cyber space, and printed space, are disconcerting. Thus I have stayed away from posting anything on my blog.
With the advent of 2018, I couldn’t help but notice the New Year’s message by none other than Kim3. Over the years, I have studied various New Year’s messages emanating from North Korea, and what I read in Kim3’s recent message is not all that remarkable. It is a boiler plate address made for the ears of his constituents in the North, plus his groupies in the South.
But what surprised me was the reactions by the western media as well as the Korean media, suggesting that Kim3 was coming around to the idea of dialogues and détente due to the peace overtures Moon Jae-in, POTROK, has been making to Kim3.
It is too soon for anyone to take credit for bringing Kim3 to the negotiations table because nothing has happened yet, other than Kim3’s line in his New Year’s message to the effect that he was willing to consider improvement in inter-Korea relations.
So I thought I should jump into the fray and add my piece to fill in the blanks for those who are not certain about Kim3 and his intent.
Let’s not mince words. North Korea is a “Soprano nation” with nukes. I use the term, “nation,” very loosely. It has not behaved like a nation by any stretch of imagination. To wit, in a nation in which everyone is supposed to be equal, it uses a class-system that is beyond anything ever imagined in human history. Everyone has to carry an ID card that tells his or her status (sung-boon), consisting of three categories and fifty-one sub-categories. It determines where you live, Pyongyang, countryside, or gulag; where you work; which school your kids go to, on and on. Sung-boon has even been used to determine what you eat and how much, and this classification system had a direct impact on the famine that perhaps caused three million deaths in the 1990s. Compared to the Kim’s, the Soprano’s were angels.
So you ask, how does Kim3 sustain his power base? This is a complex question and requires a complex answer better explained in a book. However, one of those elements is his nuke-and-missiles gambit, long envisaged by his grandfather(Kim1) decades ago. Fifty some years later, Kim3 claimed that he finally accomplished what his father(Kim2) and grandfather(Kim1) couldn’t; therefor, he deserved just as much respect as a legit successor to the throne.
Well, he may be close to completing the nuke development mission and no doubt he would garner high marks from his followers in Pyongyang. But the rest of the country is a different story. Who knows where his popularity stands among the hoi polloi, but there are reports of much grumblings, such as “What good are the nukes? We can’t eat them.”
Then there are grumblings about his idolization. http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?num=14902&cataId=nk01500
He is not all that popular in the international theater either. He is having to deal with sanctions, which he has been able to skirt around to the point that some observers argue that the sanction scheme is not working.
Things have changed recently when the U.S. spy satellites spotted oil cargo ships delivering oil to North Korean ships at high seas between China and Korea. In matter of days, South Korean authorities seized two oil cargo ships docked in its own ports, which have been involved in these transactions. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42527294
I am prone to think that the recent seizure of these tankers has something to do with Kim3's softer than usual stance. Because the North’s modus operandi in previous years tells us that it made conciliatory gestures when it was caught in a disadvantageous situation. Back in 1976, Kim Il-sung found himself in a sticky situation when his troops killed two American officers at the JSA (Joint Security Area). Dubbed as “the axe murder incident,” it caused an uproar among the U.S. troops, and the situation quickly deteriorated to DEFCON3. Kim1 had to do something quickly and he decided to offer an apology.
Fast forward to August 2015, the North planted mines south side of the DMZ border, which exploded and injured South Korean patrol soldiers. The South responded by turning on the loudspeakers and blasting criticisms of Kim Jong-un toward the North.
Two top level officials from the North, Hwang Byung-so and Kim Yang-gon, were dispatched to Panmunjom in matter of days to “improve inter-Korea relations.” They met with Kim Gwan-jin and Hong Yong-pyo, their counter-parts from the South, and worked out an agreement to turn off the loudspeakers in exchange for a family reunion session.
Both sides went away happy. More so in the North than the South. Kim3 appreciated the outcome so much that he awarded hero medals for Hwang and Kim, adding that the presence of his nukes made the great victory possible.
This incident tells us that the North will come to the table if they are at a disadvantage. Having their troops stationed near the DMZ listen to criticisms of Kim3 day and night was not a good thing, and they had to do something.
Back to the oil tankers, they have been caught red-handed conducting oil transactions, thanks to the U.S. spy satellites. Moreover, the South seized two of the oil supply ships, and their oil supply route is at risk now. They have to do something quickly, and Kim3 is tackling this problem himself.
By seizing those ships, the Moon government did well to put Kim3 in a difficult spot. This is at least part of the reason why Kim3 is “willing to consider improving inter-Korean relations.”
Was Kim3 inspired by Moon’s olive branch like Moon says? Moon no doubt thinks that his outreach to Kim3 for a dialogue was the impetus for Kim's conciliatory attitude.
This sort of delusion seems to be common for “sunshine-policy” types. Late president Kim Dae-jung originated the sunshine policy based on Aesop’s fable that warm sunshine was more effective than cold wind in prompting a man to shed his coat. Following the summit between Kim2 and Kim Dae-jung in year 2000, Kim Dae-jung proclaimed to his constituents in the South, “North Korea has no ability, nor the will to develop nuclear weapons.” He was blinded by his own desire to claim that “the sunshine policy was responsible for peace on the Korean peninsula.” He was awarded the Nobel peace prize for that statement. He also paid one-half of a billion dollars or more to Kim2 to get the summit meeting. I am certain that Kim Dae-jung went to his grave believing that he had brought peace to the peninsula for good.
As for Moon, he is bent on melting Kim3’s nukes and missiles with peace and kindness. He has pleaded with the North to participate in the Winter Olympics, and I suspect that Kim3 will play along with Moon's agenda for the Games, that is, until Kim3 fires off a missile or does another nuke test.
Moon should never forget that Kim3 and his lieutenants know exactly what they are doing and their vision is very focused, as it has been from day one — take over the South by any means possible. They have proven that they would stop at nothing. I don’t need to list the thousands of truce violations the North has committed since 1953. The latest means of aggrandizement? You got it. The nukes.
Moon has served as the Chief of Staff for former president Roh Mu-hyun (2007), who was reported to have said to Kim2 that he was the unofficial spokesman for Kim2 regarding the nuke program. Roh said that Kim2’s nukes were defensive in nature and he understood why Kim2 would need them to protect himself and his regime.
Given this environment to embrace Kim3 and his nukes, Moon has taken his cue from his old boss. He is willing to and has gone beyond his old boss in acknowledging Kim3’s nukes. It is a matter-of-fact for him. He acts like the nuke is a U.S. problem, nothing to do with him or South Korea, thanks to his security adviser Moon Chung-in (no relation), who has successfully reframed the issue from denuclearization to a “freeze-for-freeze” scenario. (Freeze the North’s nuke development as is; and freeze the military exercises by the South and the U.S.)
Moon’s assertion that there would be no strike against the North without his permission sounds good to his constituents, but it is not very convincing. The military option would not and should not be necessary in the first instance, and therefor his assertion is a non-issue. He aims to be in the "driver's seat" in resolving the tension and, if that is the case, he should keep his eye on the bouncing ball and keep clear in his mind the basic principles of a cause-and-effect relationship and also keeping in mind what is good for the country he serves. Going along with Kim3’s nukes and missiles is not good for his country or his people. He should not fall into the frame which Kim3 and his operatives have set — “we, Koreans can solve this problem by ourselves.” This is fantasy. It is not just a Korean problem. It is an international problem. If Moon wants to be in the “driver’s seat,” he needs cooperation from everyone. At this moment, I don't see any cooperation coming from Kim3, nor the U.S. Kim3 has shown that he was in the driver’s seat, dictating the terms, not Moon.
In a sense, Moon is stuck between a rock and a hard spot. The sooner he realizes that he is playing into Kim3's ultimate objective (the same objective for North Korea during the last seven decades) to control the peninsula, the better he would be. Rather than helping Kim3 move the U.S. troops out of the peninsula, it would be best for Moon to reinforce the KORUS alliance and discourage Kim3 from pursuing his nuke program. Seizing the oil supply ship was a good step. There needs to be more of these to bring Kim3 to the table in a meaningful way.
If Moon continues to throw himself at Kim3’s feet vying for his attention, Kim3 will respond with more missiles and nuke tests just as he did all last year. And that seems to be the one constant among all the variables that shape the state of affairs around the Korean peninsula.