Cover Story

On the border of brinkmanship

"On the border of brinkmanship" Continued...

Issue: "Double trouble," Oct. 21, 2006

In the late 1990s, then--South Korean President Kim Dae-jung instituted the "Sunshine Policy," advocating political engagement with North Korea. He earned a Nobel Peace Prize as a result, but critics charged that he had funneled more than $500 million to North Korea, bribing Chairman Kim Jong Il to participate in nuclear negotiations.

Cooperation with North Korea under Dae-jung included construction of the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and the nearby Dorasan train station, rebuilt to connect North and South by rail. But since Dae-jung left office in 2003, relations with Pyongyang have continued to deteriorate. The shiny, stainless Dorasan train station now stands empty, the grid of plush blue chairs in the foyer still awaiting travelers. Next to a booth offering commemorative purple passport stamps, a sign hopefully proclaims, "To Pyeongyang."

"The North Korean regime said they will connect the road," said Han Sung-ho, 72, a retired professor from Seoul who was visiting the DMZ, "but on condition of help, rice, money under the table." At 5 feet tall and 110 pounds, Han is a political firebrand of a man, prone to cranky but good-natured monologues: "We give them rice and money, and still they drag our necks," he said with a dry laugh, grabbing his own throat to illustrate the point.

After the blast Pyongyang's neighbors and their allies felt that choking sensation more than ever. But with it came bracing unity among often discordant allies. At a Sept. 14 summit in Washington, President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun had to work to downplay differences over how to deal with Kim Jong Il. But when foreign ministers from South Korea, the United States, and Japan spoke by conference call just after the claimed nuclear test this month, it took only minutes to reach consensus on an initial response.

Hours later, when the UN Security Council met to discuss the crisis, delegates took less than 30 minutes to reach unanimous agreement to pursue a resolution condemning North Korea under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which likely means stiff sanctions but can include use of force.

The Security Council took those initial steps the same day it approved the election of South Korea's foreign minister, Ban Ki Moon, as the next UN secretary-general. If confirmed by the General Assembly, Ban will take over from current officeholder Kofi Annan at the end of the year.

"It's really quite an appropriate juxtaposition that today, 61 years after the temporary division of the Korean peninsula at the end of World War II, that we're electing a foreign minister of South Korea as secretary-general of this organization and meeting as well to consider the testing by the North Koreans of a nuclear device," U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton told reporters. "I can't think of a better way to show the difference in the progress of those two countries, great progress in the South and great tragedy in the North."

Megalomania

Asians react to bullying from the North

By Russell Board

A special edition of Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper was issued on Tuesday to cover the announcement of the test, even though it was a press holiday. Wednesday morning's front page has nothing but articles dealing with the issue. The TV news shows are all about it as well.

The new prime minister Shinzo Abe has been known as one to advocate a hard line toward North Korea. Now his mettle will be tested right away. Japan will propose that the UN Security Council implement tougher sanctions than those proposed by the United States. These will include a ban on imports of all products from North Korea; a ban on port calls by ships and planes from North Korea; a ban on allowing senior North Korean officials to enter or pass through UN member countries. In any case, Japan is prepared to implement unilateral sanctions similar to these.

Koreans are by far the largest foreign ethnic group in Japan. Many were brought here forcibly during wartime. Those born here are still considered Korean. So far there doesn't seem to be any violent reaction against ethnic Koreans, but there has always been discrimination against them.

How do you handle a megalomaniac? Threats don't work, and appeasement only feeds his illusion. The option of direct action is scary to contemplate, but it may turn out to be the only viable one.

A nuclear North Korea would certainly destabilize the region. I think nuclear phobia is still too strong here for Japan to consider developing its own nuclear weapons. Pacifism is still dominant among the general population. If the threat and provocation are strong enough, this could conceivably change, but I don't think it is likely. Right now, I think the Japanese are prepared to take any and every measure short of violence to prevent the emergence of North Korea as a full-fledged nuclear power. If and when these prove insufficient, who knows? It would force many pacifists to face up to the inadequacy of their worldview.

Norbert Vollertsen, German doctor and human-rights activist who worked in North Korea:

The current nuclear crisis with North Korea is a "chance"-to end the evil regime of Kim Jong Il. Since 2001 we human-rights activists were looking for more exposure of the human-rights violations of Kim Jong Il. Nobody cared. Then came 9/11 and the Iraq war and North Korea was called one member of the "axis of evil." It now has proved to really belong there.

We have also to refocus on human-right issues again. The ordinary North Korean people are nice human beings who are taken hostage and brainwashed by the criminal mafia clan around Kim Jong Il. And like any ordinary kidnapper he is threatening his victims, and blackmailing the outside world with his weapons.

Like with any ordinary kidnapper: You can talk with him, negotiate, even make a deal to release his hostages-but in the end you have to arrest him.

Russell Board is a mission worker in Japan.

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