Category Archives: One Korea

Response to BBC Panorama Documentary on North Korea

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The following statement below was originally published by The Pyongyang Project:

Fellow traveler and Citizen Diplomat to North Korea, Michael Bassett, hugging a 1st Lieutenant (상위) of the KPA.  For more photos by Michael Bassett, click here.

Fellow traveler and Citizen Diplomat to North Korea, Michael Bassett, hugging a 1st Lieutenant (상위) of the KPA.
For more photos by Michael Bassett, click here.


Response to BBC Panorama Documentary on North Korea

April 16, 2013

Recent news surrounding the dispute between John Sweeney, the London School of Economics (LSE), and the Panorama documentary on North Korea offers us an opportunity to evaluate the different ways we as foreigners can choose to approach North Korea.

On the one hand, we can follow Mr. Sweeney’s lead and adopt the attitude of an investigative reporter in search of ever more astonishing reminders that North Korea is indeed a whole lot different from “us”—and not in the good way. The depiction of North Korea as a nation of irate soldiers, inflammatory propaganda and oppressive brainwashing is hackneyed and simplistic at best, and both irresponsible and harmful at worst.

Mr. Sweeney and his crew visited North Korea as part of a highly restricted tour that over forty thousand other foreigners take every year.  It is entirely naïve for Mr. Sweeney and his crew to assume that observations from this standard tour, specifically intended for foreign tourists, allowed them to draw meaningful conclusions about daily life in North Korea. To suggest as much, on a national stage, is extremely misleading. In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Sweeney claimed that North Korea is “more like Hitler’s Germany than other state in this world…extraordinarily scary, dark and evil.” This is a prime example of how simplistic and sensational characterizations absorb public attention away from the far more complex challenge of how to encourage productive engagement.

Criticism of Mr. Sweeney’s actions—that he placed LSE students at potential risk while also damaging LSE’s academic credibility—has been given much attention in the media and rightfully so. It should also be noted that concocting the identity of a professor and filming a documentary without permission might well have had repercussions in North Korea as well. By betraying the trust of their North Korean hosts, Mr. Sweeney and his crew unwittingly put their tour guides in personal danger. Mr. Sweeney’s claims that his actions “only deceived the government” are erroneous and betray his overly simplistic understanding of North Korea; it is false to again assume the “Government” is one cohesive unit.

For those of us who have spent years working with various North Korean ministries, bureaus, companies, institutions, committees, and universities, we understand that organizations operate with relative independence; the only group deceived would have been the tourism operator and agent with whom they arranged their tour. Should the Panorama documentary provoke negative backlash against North Korea, these tour guides may bare the brunt of the blame and the punishment. Considering the extent to which Mr. Sweeney compromised the safety of both his hosts and fellow travellers, it is disappointing that his ruse failed to reveal anything more constructive.

There are more creative ways to approach North Korea. Through our organization we have been working regularly with North Korean students, professors and professionals for the last five years; bringing them abroad for educational enrichment programs, and organizing exchange activities with them in North Korea. We have also brought many Western students to North Korea, South Korea and Northeast China to participate in study tours, language learning programs, and athletic exchanges. What we see is the dedication our North Korean students have for their studies, waking up everyday at six in the morning to prepare for class, asking for extra classroom time and homework to reinforce their lessons, making the most of the opportunity to study abroad under foreign professors. What we do is bring together different viewpoints of Chinese, South Korean, North Korean, and Western professors and practitioners to examine the issues in Korea from as many angles and standpoints as possible. The result: extreme complexity, high emotions, and a very human will to empathize with one another. It is time to be responsible and act constructively; and to stop using the misfortune of others as an entertaining horror show.

Here in Canada alone, there are universities and non-profit organizations implementing educational exchange projects to train North Korean students and professors in economics and humanities. There are also organizations working actively to provide humanitarian assistance to people throughout the North Korean countryside. Can Mr. Sweeney’s eight days looking at the country from a very limited lens rife with preconceived notions and half-baked analysis shed as much light on the reality of life in North Korea as years of on the ground experience?

In the face of heightened geopolitical tension the last thing the world needs is more fodder for the fire. With the increased media scrutiny, Mr. Sweeney has a unique opportunity to shift focus away from the customary narrative of North Korea as an irascible pariah state and elicit conversation on what can be done to make things better.

Pyongyang Project Management Team

An interview with north Koreans while traveling in the DPRK

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The following article below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization:

April 6, 2013

Fight Back News Service is circulating the following interview that longtime Chicago activist Stansfield Smith conducted with Koreans in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The introduction, questions and explanations in brackets are by Smith.

I am an anti-war and Latin America solidarity activist in Chicago. I recently returned from a late March trip to north Korea [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)], along with 45 others, through Koryo Tours. On that tour I had the opportunity to discuss with the Korean tour guides their views on the current situation. I only recall the DPRK view mentioned here once in the corporate media, when Dennis Rodman returned with a message from new President Kim Jong. The message to President Obama was, “I don’t want war, call me.” Nobel Peace Prize winning President Obama refused to accept it, evidently preferring an escalating threat of a regional nuclear war to talking. I asked my Korean tour guides to be interviewed so I could present their views to U.S. people.

Has the DPRK made proposals for peaceful national reunification?

Yes, now we have options: the historic option of a federal republic, and the recent option. In our history we proposed three principles for reunification: that the north and south unite the country independently of foreign forces, that we reunify peacefully, and that we work together over the years to create the unity of the whole nation.

Our historic option is a federal republic: a central government concerned only with national defense and diplomacy, and two local governments, north and south, handling all other issues.

But recently the situation on the peninsula is deteriorating. There are no signs of resolving the issue. If south Korean provocations continue, war will break out and we are prepared to fight. Because the situation has deteriorated, that is why we invalidated the 1953 ceasefire agreement. What we need is a permanent peace treaty, so there will be no more war danger.

Now there is no contact between north and south. Now there are no phone lines between north and south, there is no hotline.

Now the U.S. and south Korea plan is that the DPRK will collapse. The situation continues to deteriorate. They are playing a dangerous game.

Japan is also very hostile. The present government is very right wing. It is trying to build a strong military using ‘dangerous’ DPRK as a pretext to justify turning its self-defense force into a regular army. Not only the DPRK, but many Asian countries are concerned with this right-wing Japanese resurgence.

The American people should ask the U.S. government to change its hostile policy. Make America aware of the real situation in the Korean peninsula. Ask the American government to sign a peace treaty and push for diplomatic ties with the DPRK.

Why did the DPRK feel the need to develop a nuclear bomb?

Koreans had to deal with the reality of nuclear weapons twice before. Many thousands of Koreans were used as slave labor by the Japanese in World War II and many of these were forced labor workers in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb.

Later, in the U.S. war in Korea, U.S. General MacArthur wanted to drop 50-70 atomic bombs along the China-Korea border to create a belt of land people cannot live on or cross.

Later in the Pueblo incident in 1968, when the DPRK captured a U.S. spy ship in our waters, President Johnson sent aircraft carriers with nuclear weapons to Korea. And in 1969 when the U.S. E-C spy plane was shot down over our territory, the U.S. again threatened us with a nuclear attack.

The “Team Spirit” U.S.-south Korea war exercises from the 1970s to the 1990s practiced with using nuclear bombs.

The DPRK joined the International Atomic Energy Agency and became a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty member in 1985. We wanted to develop cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. Our purpose for joining was to be safe from nuclear attack. But the threat has continued.

In 1994 with our agreement with the U.S., we froze our nuclear program. In exchange, President Clinton and the U.S. promised to supply us with a light water reactor. As we now know, Clinton only made those promises because the U.S. thought the DPRK would collapse, and so did not need to honor the agreement. We allowed nuclear inspections until 1999, to show that our nuclear power was only for peaceful purposes. The U.S. broke the agreement in 2002 under Bush and we resumed using our nuclear power plant.

The Yugoslav war showed us that we need to defend ourselves. We learned from the U.S. that the U.S. has no justice, no fairness. The U.S. respects only power. So the DPRK developed nuclear weapons to have power.

The DPRK needs to allocate resources to meet people’s needs but must spend money on nuclear weapons to protect and defend our country. We learned the lesson in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan: be strong.

The DPRK negotiated with the U.S., but the U.S. broke agreements and increased sanctions five times. When the DPRK would agree to some terms, the U.S. would raise the ante. The U.S. had said we cannot have nuclear power, because we could use it for bombs. We cannot have satellites because the missiles we send them into space with can be used as military missiles. These they these things can have dual purpose, one civilian, one military. They deny us food because they say it can be used to feed the military. If we kept going along with this, they would say we cannot have kitchen knives because we could use them for fighting.

There are slave states and noble states. Noble states develop their own technological infrastructure, GPS, weather reporting, etc., so need satellites. These days satellites are used for many things. If your country doesn’t have your own technology, you end up a slave state, dependent on other countries. Noble countries are in control of their own development and have a future.

Maybe without nuclear weapons we could already have been attacked by the U.S. in a war. Now our people can live more peacefully. The people of the DPRK are proud we have nuclear weapons; they are a guarantee of peace. Only we on our own can safeguard the peace.

The U.S. has over 1000 nuclear weapons in south Korea – nuclear artillery, nuclear missiles, nuclear bombs, nuclear landmines.

The DPRK has called for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, but this call has been ignored. Now that we saw no choice but to develop nuclear weapons to defend ourselves, we are sanctioned. This is a double standard insulting to our people.

What do the people of the DPRK think of the U.S./UN sanctions? How do these sanctions affect the people here?

We have been used to coping with U.S. sanctions since 1945. Our people think the sanctions are a clear example of a double standard and a misuse of the UN Security Council. There is no justification for them. Sanctions were applied because of our nuclear bomb tests and satellite launches.

Since World War II there have been 9000 missile/satellite launches. Four were by the DPRK. There have been 2000 nuclear tests, three by the DPRK. But the UN never made a resolution or imposed sanctions against any country for doing that, only the DPRK.

This is a double standard by the UN. It is a misuse of the UN Security Council by the U.S. Other countries are like U.S. puppets to go along with this.

The sanctions affect every household, every individual in the DPRK. There are power cuts, a heating and energy shortage, a food problem. Even you visiting tourists are affected by the sanctions, as you see with your hotels. [in Pyongyang water and lights were only on certain hours of the day; in other towns it was even less]. There is a lack of oil and spare parts for machinery.

The sanctions threaten any country that trades with the DPRK, so that they must choose who they want to trade with, the DPRK or other countries. Our trade now is really only with China.

How is the food situation now and what role is the U.S. playing?

The food situation is still not satisfactory, and we are still trying to cover our basic food needs with the help of food imports and foreign aid. Repeated U.S. sanctions have stopped food aid. The sanctions have made the food situation worse.

At present U.S. NGOs [non-governmental organizations] give only some, limited, token medical aid and no food aid. For a period of seven to eight years there was no food aid from the U.S. The U.S. sanctions are interfering with solving the food situation. It has cut its food aid and even interferes with other countries providing food aid.

What is the main emphasis in the DPRK’s economic plan now [for the last several years the country had a military first policy]?

The DPRK now emphasizes two points: agricultural production and light industry. Light industry is what you call textiles, food processing, toys, furniture, shoes and so on. We want to invest and develop more these two areas. We want to improve the living standard of people. We focus on these two even if the situation is dangerous. Even if war is coming, we will focus on agriculture and light industry until war starts. We must work harder on developing agriculture and light industry.

Now with the nuclear bomb, the DPRK is a little safer and can turn from self-defense spending to light industry and consumer goods investment. You saw in Pyongyang a big conference of 10,000 delegates from light industries all over the country. They are here to discuss and exchange ideas about how to improve light industry, what has worked in their factories, what has problems, and how to solve them.

How are relations with south Korea since the Sunshine Policy? [Started by south Korean President Kim Dae Jung and continued by President Roh Moo-hyun, from the years 1998-2008. In this period of less chilly relations between north and south, the heads of state of the two countries met in 2000 and again in 2007. The Kaesong Industrial Park in the DPRK was opened and several thousand south Korean tourists visited the north.]

Since 2008 south Korea has shown only confrontation. There has been no cooperation. South Korea has broken all agreements we have made during the Sunshine policy. There is no more cooperation, no tourism from the south, no engagement. Now relations are only negative, there are no positive signs. This is because of both U.S. pressure and a south Korean decision. South Korea President Lee Myung-bak is a right-wing businessman, who changed the situation, just like Bush reversed Clinton’s even moderate degree of cooperation.

The present South Korea president is Park Geun-hye, daughter of south Korean military dictator Park Chung-hee , who was an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army. Cooperation has changed to confrontation. South Korea thinks military pressure on the north, combined with sanctions, will make the DPRK collapse.

Fidel Castro’s Reflections: The duty to avoid a war in Korea

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April 5, 2013

A few days ago I mentioned the great challenges humanity is currently facing. Intelligent life emerged on our planet approximately 200,000 years ago, although new discoveries demonstrate something else.

This is not to confuse intelligent life with the existence of life which, from its elemental forms in our solar system, emerged millions of years ago.

A virtually infinite number of life forms exist. In the sophisticated work of the world’s most eminent scientists the idea has already been conceived of reproducing the sounds which followed the Big Bang, the great explosion which took place more than 13.7 billion years ago.

This introduction would be too extensive if it was not to explain the gravity of an event as unbelievable and absurd as the situation created in the Korean Peninsula, within a geographic area containing close to five billion of the seven billion persons currently inhabiting the planet.

This is about one of the most serious dangers of nuclear war since the October Crisis around Cuba in 1962, 50 years ago.

In 1950, a war was unleashed there [the Korean Peninsula] which cost millions of lives. It came barely five years after two atomic bombs were exploded over the defenseless cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which, in a matter of seconds, killed and irradiated hundreds of thousands of people.

General Douglas MacArthur wanted to utilize atomic weapons against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Not even Harry Truman allowed that.

It has been affirmed that the People’s Republic of China lost one million valiant soldiers in order to prevent the installation of an enemy army on that country’s border with its homeland. For its part, the Soviet army provided weapons, air support, technological and economic aid.

I had the honor of meeting Kim Il Sung, a historic figure, notably courageous and revolutionary.

If war breaks out there, the peoples of both parts of the Peninsula will be terribly sacrificed, without benefit to all or either of them. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was always friendly with Cuba, as Cuba has always been and will continue to be with her.

Now that the country has demonstrated its technical and scientific achievements, we remind her of her duties to the countries which have been her great friends, and it would be unjust to forget that such a war would particularly affect more than 70% of the population of the planet.

If a conflict of that nature should break out there, the government of Barack Obama in his second mandate would be buried in a deluge of images which would present him as the most sinister character in the history of the United States. The duty of avoiding war is also his and that of the people of the United States.

Fidel Castro Ruz

April 4, 2013

11:12 p.m.

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DPRK’s “State of War” Declaration Is a Faulty Translation: Not an Official Policy Statement from Kim Jung Un

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Ed. Note: Since re-publishing this article from Global Research, and after several back and forth conversations on Facebook regarding this particular translation, I’ve since been informed that the English translation may, in fact, be accurate and not manufactured. The source of this comes from someone who’s spent time in the DPRK and has traveled alongside that of The Pyongyang Project, participating in their programs. The source wishes to remain unnamed, but I can verify that he is very knowledgeable and well-studied in Korean language.

When asked if the picture’s (shown below) claim of the English translation being inaccurate was true, this is what the source had to say:

‘This is not correct. The statement read: “이 시각부터 북남관계는 전시상황에 들어가며 따라서 북남사이에서 제기되는 모든 문제들은 전시에 준하여 처리될것이다.” The translation provided on the English version of Rodong Sinmun is: “From this moment, the north-south relations will be put at the state of war and all the issues arising between the north and the south will be dealt with according to the wartime regulations.” This is an accurate translation. Moreover, the English title of the announcement is “North-South Relations Have Been Put at State of War: Special Statement of DPRK”. The only media outlet manufacturing these claims is Rodong Sinmun.’

Korean: http://www.rodong.rep.kp/InterKo/index.php?strPageID=SF01_02_01&newsID=2013-03-30-0065
English: http://www.rodong.rep.kp/InterEn/index.php?strPageID=SF01_02_01&newsID=2013-03-30-0013&chAction=S Read the rest of this entry

China mobilizes military forces around Korean peninsula amid rising tensions

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April 2, 2013

AFP Photo / China Photo

China has started mobilizing military forces around the Korean peninsula in response to rising tensions that follow recent threats by North Korea to launch missile attacks against its southern neighbor and the United States.

According to US officials, Pyongyang’s declaration of a ‘state of war’ against South Korea has led to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to increase its military presence on the border with the North. The officials say the process has been going on since mid-March, and includes troop movements and readying fighter jets. The PLA is now at ‘Level One’ readiness, its highest.

Chinese forces, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, have been spotted in the city of Ji’an and near the Yalu River, which splits China and North Korea. Other border regions were also reportedly being patrolled by planes.

China has also been conducting live-firing naval exercises in the Yellow Sea, scheduled to end on Monday. The move is widely viewed as open support for North Korea, which continues to show extreme opposition to the US-South Korean military drills that are to last until May.

The news comes as the US deployed its USS Fitzgerald destroyer off the coast of North Korea, adding to its Sunday deployment of F-22 fighter jets to take part in the drills with the friendly South, which has further served to heighten tensions on the peninsula.

Meanwhile, North Korea has been mobilizing its short and medium-range missile arsenal, according to analyses of satellite imagery. Officials say Pyongyang is set to test its new KN-08 medium-range mobile missile; they say preparations have been spotted in the past. Pyongyang claims that since March 26, its forces have been placed on their highest possible status of alert.

Although officials believe Pyongyang will not provoke Seoul during the war games, they also fear that a miscalculation by South Korea could lead to all-out war, following its promise of retaliation against the North, should it launch its missiles first.

South Korean anti-aircraft armoured vehicles move over a temporary bridge during a river-crossing military drill in Hwacheon near the border with North Korea on April 1, 2013 (AFP Photo / KIim Jae-Hwan)

North Korea and China have maintained a long-standing defense treaty under which Beijing is to come to Pyongyang’s aid in the event of an attack. The last time this was put into practice was during the Korean War, when tens of thousands of Chinese volunteer forces were deployed on the Korean Peninsula. The relationship between the two countries is often referred to as being “as close as lips and teeth” by Chinese military spokesmen.

Despite the heated tensions leading to an apparent disruption in trade and commerce between China and North Korea, the two are already making future plans to bolster their economic ties. March 27 saw the announcement of a new high-speed railway, as well as a special highway passenger line.

Still, many in Chinese circles have shown displeasure at Pyongyang’s seemingly aggressive relationship with Seoul and Washington. A Chinese official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, has testified that US presence in the region is a helpful restraint against an unpredictable Kim Jong-un, which many believe to be the real reason Beijing has not been strong in its criticism of the amassing of US forces in the region.

Furthermore, Chinese websites and blogs could sometimes be found openly bashing the North Korean leader for an apparent mishandling of the situation in the region, playing diplomatic games amid chronic food shortages in his country. An editor at the country’s Study Times newspaper was recently suspended for openly criticizing China for abandoning North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang (AFP Photo / KCNA via KNS)

Expert opinion differs on what China’s exact position is in the unfolding regional crisis.

US officials claim the China’s main fear is a collapse of order in North Korea, which would lead to a large-scale refugee flow into China.

Another possible reason for China to worry is advanced by journalist James Corbett, host of the Corbett Report, who believes that foreign military presence in the region is just as unnerving to China as it is to Pyongyang. He discussed this in the light of the latest war drills.

“I think that this has the possibility of ratcheting things up to the point where tensions might actually spill over as a result of this, and we saw that recently with the deployment of B-2 nuclear armed bombers in South Korea which is not only, I think, worrying to Pyongyang, but also to China, to have nuclear bombers that close to the peninsula there, on China’s southern border. I think that China wouldn’t be pleased with that either, so this is quite an escalation that’s taking place.”

Others believe openly that the US strategy is geared not towards the destabilization of North Korea, but that of China. Li Jie, an expert with a Chinese navy research institution, has told Reuters that “the ultimate strategic aim is to contain and blockade China, to distract China’s attention and slow its development. What the US is most worried about is the further development of China’s economy and military strength.”

Retired Major General Luo Yuan, who is one of China’s foremost military authorities, believes, however that “once the joint US-South Korean exercises have finished and with birthday celebrations for (late founder of North Korea) Kim Il-sung imminent, the temperature will gradually cool and get back to the status quo of no war, no unification.”

While it has been urging calm and peace in the region, Beijing has been very obliging at the UN Security Council, when it helped push through the latest round of sanctions against North Korea in March, following its third nuclear test the previous month. Despite being Pyongyang’s greatest ally in the region, some experts believe this is a sign of Beijing’s growing impatience. American diplomat Christopher R. Hill, who helped under the Bush administration to negotiate a deal for the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear facilities (which didn’t last), says that the Chinese strategy is“not about the words, it is about the music.”

The resolution came hours after North Korea, angered at both the US-South Korean war games, and at the proposed UN plan, threatened pre-emptive nuclear action against the South and US military bases in the region.

This latest standoff between North and South Korea and the US is credited to have started on February 12, when Pyongyang supposedly performed its latest underground nuclear weapons test. Just this weekend, North Korea vowed to boost its nuclear arsenal, calling it a “treasure of a reunified country”which it would never trade for anything, even “billions of dollars” worth of aid.

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The Siege and Terrorism

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By Stephen Gowans
March 18, 2013

In his 2011 book Crisis in Korea: America, China and the Risk of War, Tim Beal writes,

The Americans, and their friends and allies, tend to have a disengaged attitude toward sanctions—disengaged both ethically and in terms of causality. Sanctions are, after all, but the modern version of the age-old military tactic of the siege. The aim of the siege is to reduce the enemy to such a state of starvation and deprivation that they open the gates, perhaps killing their leaders in the process, and throw themselves on the mercy of the besiegers.”

Later, Beal adds, “There are strong parallels between sanctions/sieges and terrorism: both inflict pain on ordinary, vulnerable people in order to turn them against their leaders…”

While Beal writes in connection with North Korea, Washington’s use of the modern-day siege extends to other countries, as well. Like North Korea, Iran is despised by Washington for its insistence on using its labor, markets and natural resources, not for Wall Street’s profits, but for self-directed development. And like North Korea, Iran is menaced by a campaign of sanctions. These sanctions, too, aim, as terrorism does, to make ordinary people suffer so they’ll pressure their government to change its policies to accommodate the interests of the besieger/terrorist (in this case, to replace the current economically nationalist government with one that will open the Iranian economy to ownership by foreigners and create business conditions favorable to foreign investors reaping handsome returns, albeit under the guise of building “democracy” and relinquishing an independent nuclear energy industry.)

The accustomed practice in mainstream journalism is to gloss over the effects of sanctions on besieged countries, or to insist that they’re targeted at a country’s leadership and therefore do no harm to ordinary people.

But in a March 17 Washington Post article, reporters Joby Warrick and Anne Gearan acknowledge that the sanctions on Iran are aimed at hurting ordinary people.

Warrick and Gearan write,

Harsh economic sanctions have taken a serious toll on Iran’s economy, but U.S. and European officials acknowledge that the measures have not yet produced the kind of public unrest that could force Iranian leaders to change their nuclear policies.

Nine months after Iran was hit with the toughest restrictions in its history, the nation’s economy appears to have settled into a slow, downward glide, hemorrhaging jobs and hard currency but appearing to be in no immediate danger of collapse, Western diplomats and analysts say.

At the same time, the hardships have not triggered significant domestic protests or produced a single concession by Iran on its nuclear program.

They continue,

The impact has been hardest on the middle and working classes, which have seen savings evaporate and purchasing power dry up. Yet, in recent months, Iran’s fiscal crisis appears to have eased, and economists say neither complete collapse nor widespread rioting appears likely in the near term.

So, sanctions aren’t working because they haven’t inflicted enough suffering to engender widespread unrest and rioting.

If sanctions do produce their desired effect, and wide-spread rioting does break out, the public unrest most assuredly will not be blamed by Western reporters on the suffering produced by sanctions, but dishonestly on Tehran’s “economic mismanagement.” And aid will continue to flow to opposition forces in Iran, who will be presented as “thirsting for democracy” (rather than relief from the suffering inflicted by the United States and European Union) to help them topple their government (which is to say, open the gate to let the besiegers in.)

The Warrick and Gearan article’s emphasis on the sanctions’ failure to promote rioting, may signal that policy-makers are coming to the conclusion that Washington’s goals for Iran cannot be achieved by sanctions alone, and that military intervention is also required.

Military intervention, however, may not be an alternative to the siege, but its complement. US Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 US-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia resonates with the aim of the besieger/terrorist. Explained Short,

“If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo, what’s this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?’” (“What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 26, 1999.)

The modus operandi, then, of US foreign policy is to inflict pain on ordinary people who live in countries whose governments resist integration into the US-superintended system of global capitalist exploitation, in order to create public unrest that will either force the country’s leaders to change their policies, or step down and yield power to local representatives of global capitalist interests (deceptively labeled by Western state officials and establishment journalists as “pro-democracy” or “democratic” forces.)

The only thing “democratic” about US foreign policy is its insistence on democratizing suffering.

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North Korea or the United States: Who is a Threat to Global Security?

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The following article below was originally published by Global Research

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky
March 5, 2013

Long lines of refugees fleeing from Yongdong on 26 July 1950. The day before, hundreds of refugees were massacred by U.S. soldiers and warplanes at bridge at No Gun Ri, eight miles away.

Most people in America consider North Korea as an inherently aggressive nation and a threat to global security.

Media disinformation sustains North Korea as a “rogue state”.

The history of the Korean war and its devastating consequences are rarely mentioned. America is portrayed as the victim rather than the aggressor.

North Korea lost thirty percent of its population as a result of US led bombings in the 1950s.

US military sources confirm that 20 percent of North Korea’s  population was killed off over a three year period of intensive bombings:

“After destroying North Korea’s 78 cities and thousands of her villages, and killing countless numbers of her civilians, [General] LeMay remarked, “Over a period of three years or so we killed off – what – twenty percent of the population.”

It is now believed that the population north of the imposed 38th Parallel lost nearly a third its population of 8 – 9 million people during the 37-month long “hot” war, 1950 – 1953, perhaps an unprecedented percentage of mortality suffered by one nation due to the belligerence of another.” (See War Veteran Brian Willson. Korea and the Axis of Evil, Global Research, April, 2002)

Official South Korean government sources estimate North Korean civilian deaths at 1,550,000.

During The Second World War the United Kingdom lost 0.94% of its population, France lost 1.35%, China lost 1.89% and the US lost 0.32%.

During the Korean war, North Korea lost 30 % of its population. In the words of General Curtis Lemay:

There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders. (emphasis added)

Reflect for a few minutes on these figures:  If a foreign power had bombed the US and America had lost thirty percent of its population as result of foreign aggression, Americans across the land would certainly be aware of the threat to their national security emanating from this unnamed foreign power.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the North Koreans, who lost 30 percent of their population as a result of 37 months of relentless US bombings.

From their standpoint, the US is the threat to Global Security.

Their country was destroyed. Town and villages were bombed. General Curtis Lemay acknowledges that “[we] eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.”

There is not a single family in North Korea which has not lost a loved one.

Everyone I talked with, dozens and dozens of folks, lost one if not many more family members during the war, especially from the continuous bombing, much of it incendiary and napalm, deliberately dropped on virtually every space in the country. “Every means of communication, every installation, factory, city, and village” was ordered bombed by General MacArthur in the fall of 1950. It never stopped until the day of the armistice on July 27, 1953. (See War Veteran Brian Willson. Korea and the Axis of Evil, Global Research, April, 2002)

For the people of North Korea, in their inner consciousness as human beings, the aggressor, which inflicted more than two million deaths on a country of  8-9 million (1950s) is the United States of America.

These facts continue to be concealed by the Western media to sustain the “Axis of Evil” legend, which portrays North Korea as a threat and “rogue state”, to be condemned by the “international community”.

Genocide is defined under the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) as the

“the deliberate and systematic destruction of, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”. Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

What is at stake is an act of genocide committed by the US. During the Korean War an entire civilian population was the target of deliberate and relentless bombings, with a view to destroying and killing a national group, which constitutes an act of genocide under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The DPRK Did Not “Vow Nuclear Attack on Washington”: On Preemptive Strikes

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

March 8, 2013

Former Chicago Bulls Forward Dennis Rodman became the first US citizen to meet DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, and in doing so, he set a standard for international solidarity that the US Left should learn from.

Fox News, CNN, the BBC, and a host of other Western news outlets were aflame yesterday – no pun intended – after a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) said that their country would launch a preemptive strike against US aggression. The sensationalist headlines kicked into high-gear, with Fox News reporting, “‘North Korea vows nuclear attack on US, saying Washington will be ‘engulfed in a sea of fire.’” Almost 60 years after the armistice that ended the Korean war, the US media seems more eager than ever to make people believe that a nuclear strike by a small, partitioned nation is likely.

For all of the venom the Western press has spilled over the DPRK’s latest comments, it’s incredibly difficult to find the full quote or the context of such a statement. Also absent from any of the reporting is a real definition of the term “preemptive strike,” compared to a “preventative strike.”

University of Chicago Professor of Korean History Bruce Cumings famously said that reading the DPRK’s official news network gives you a better understanding of the truth in the Korean Peninsula than reading the South Korean or US press. This is indeed the case.

The Korean Central News Agency published the statement by the Foreign Ministry that caused so much controversy in the US. Entitled, “Second Korean War Is Unavoidable: DPRK FM Spokesman,” the statement details the multitude of ways that the US is trying “to ignite a nuclear war to stifle the DPRK.” Since the US and European media refuse to quote the piece in context, we will quote it at some length:

The U.S. is now working hard to ignite a nuclear war to stifle the DPRK.

Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises kicked off by the U.S., putting the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war, are maneuvers for a nuclear war aimed to mount a preemptive strike on the DPRK from A to Z.

The U.S. is massively deploying armed forces for aggression, including nuclear carrier task force and strategic bombers, enough to fight a nuclear war under the smokescreen of “annual drills.”

What should not be overlooked is that the war maneuvers are timed to coincide with the moves to fabricate a new “resolution” of the UN Security Council against the DPRK, pursuant to a war scenario of the U.S. to ignite a nuclear war under the pretext of “nuclear nonproliferation”.

It is a trite war method of the U.S. to cook up “a resolution” at the UNSC to justify its war of aggression and then unleash it under the berets of “UN forces.”

That is why the U.S. is hurling into the war maneuvers even armed forces of its satellite countries which participated in the past Korean War as “UN forces”.

After directing the strategic pivot for world hegemony to the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. regards it as its primary goal to put the whole of the Korean Peninsula under its control in a bid to secure a bridgehead for landing in the Eurasian continent. It also seeks a way out of a serious economic crisis at home in unleashing the second Korean war.

The U.S. is, indeed, the very criminal threatening global peace and security as it is staging dangerous war drills in this region, the biggest hotspot in the world and a nuclear arsenal where nuclear weapons and facilities are densely deployed.

Ignoring this context changes the entire message of the article. If we took the US media’s claims at face value, many are led to believe that DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un woke up on the wrong side of the bed and haphazardly declared his intent to bomb Washington D.C. An actual study of the KCNA statement paints a different picture, namely one in which the US is the primary aggressor whose bellicose military exercises and insistence on debilitating sanctions on the DPRK are bringing the region closer to war.

The statement goes on to address the DPRK’s response to the aggressive war games that the US carries out in the Korean Peninsula. We quote it here:

The DPRK has so far made every possible effort while exercising maximum self-restraint in order to defend the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

The U.S. is, however, responding to the DPRK’s good will and self-restraint with large-scale nuclear war maneuvers and the “annual” war drills are developing into a real war. Under this situation the opportunity of diplomatic solution has disappeared and there remains only military counteraction.

Is the statement really incorrect? The DPRK is surrounded by US warships containing nuclear missiles. They have pushed for dialogue with the international community about their nuclear weapons program, but Washington has rebuffed their attempts and responded with harsher sanctions, which is a form of economic warfare. Former US President George W. Bush once said that North Korea is “the most sanctioned country in the world,” Independent scholar Stephen Gowans explains the terms of these sanctions, which restrict “the export of goods and services,” the “blocking of any loan or funding through international financial institutions,” and a “ban on government financing of food and medicine exports to North Korea.” Rather than attempting good-faith rapprochement with Pyongyang, the US continues to point its most deadly weapons at the small country and heavily sanction its access to essential goods and industrial equipment.

Let’s now look at the statement in controversy from the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK:

First, now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country.

The Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army declared that it would totally nullify the Korean Armistice Agreement (AA) from March 11 when the U.S. nuclear war rehearsal gets into full swing. This meant that from that moment the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will take military actions for self-defence against any target any moment, not restrained by AA.

Contrary to the media’s fixation on the phrasing of the first statement, it is actually the following paragraph that explains the DPRK’s understanding of a preemptive strike. Joe Barnes of Rice University describes the difference between a ‘preemptive strike’ and a ‘preventative strike’ in a March 2007 paper entitled, “Preemptive and Preventative War: A Preliminary Taxonomy.” The following quote from Barnes’ paper illustrates the ‘right to a preemptive nuclear attack’ that the statement alludes to:

The two categories of national strategy are preemption and prevention. Preemption is the taking of military action against a target when there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack. Prevention is the taking of military action against a target when it is believed that an attack by the target, while not imminent, is inevitable, and when delay in attacking would involve greater risk.

For most US citizens, their first exposure to the term “preemptive war” was when the Bush Administration invoked in in 2003 to justify their imperialist invasion of Iraq. They unleashed brutal war and occupation on the Iraqi people on the basis of a total lie, namely that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and might be a threat to the US. However, if we look at Barnes’ quote, we understand that the war in Iraq was a preventative war, not a preemptive war. There was no “incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to initiate a military attack.” Instead, all of the evidence pointed to Iraq not having weapons of mass destruction, much less having the capability and the will to fire such weapons at the US. As Noam Chomsky puts it:

The grand strategy authorizes Washington to carry out “preventive war”: Preventive, not pre-emptive.  Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might be, they do not hold for preventive war, particularly as that concept is interpreted by its current enthusiasts: the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, so that even the term “preventive” is too charitable.  Preventive war is, very simply, the “supreme crime” condemned at Nuremberg.

The DPRK has threatened preemptive war, not preventative war. The difference is so glaring that one can only conclude that the US media is knowingly distorting and lying about the DPRK’s military intent. Because the DPRK rightly recognizes the crippling sanctions on itself as a form of economic warfare and they recognize the growing threat of US invasion, they have made a strong statement expressing their willingness to shoot first if “there is incontrovertible evidence that the target is about to attack.” This becomes painstakingly clear in the second paragraph of the statement in question, in which the DPRK claims it will only nullify the armistice “when the US nuclear war rehearsal gets into full-swing.”

Admittedly, the use of the term “when” rather than “if” seems fatalist and damning, but when one considers the 63+ year aggression that the DPRK has continually faced by the US, their cynicism at the US radically changing its pro-war policy seems justified.

This statement is nothing new from the DPRK, which has continually upheld its right to self-defense and self-determination. The DPRK acquired nuclear weapons out of necessary reality, a point further underscored by the US war with Iraq and NATO’s war with Libya in 2011. Again, we quote Gowans about the deterrent provided by nuclear weapons in his article, “Why North Korea Needs Nuclear Weapons“:

Subsequent events in Libya have only reinforced the lesson. Muammar Gaddafi had developed his own WMD program to protect Libya from Western military intervention. But Gaddafi also faced an internal threat—Islamists, including jihadists linked to Al Qaeda, who sought to overthrow him to create an Islamist society in Libya. After 9/11, with the United States setting out to crush Al Qaeda, Gaddafi sought a rapprochement with the West, becoming an ally in the international battle against Al Qaeda, to more effectively deal with his own Islamist enemies at home. The price of being invited into the fold was to abandon his weapons of mass destruction. When Gaddafi agreed to this condition he made a fatal strategic blunder. An economic nationalist, Gaddafi irritated Western oil companies and investors by insisting on serving Libyan interests ahead of the oil companies’ profits and investors’ returns. Fed up with his nationalist obstructions, NATO teamed up with Gaddafi’s Islamist enemies to oust and kill the Libyan leader. Had he not surrendered his WMDs, Gaddafi would likely still be playing a lead role in Libya. “Who would have dared deal with Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability?” asks Major General Amir Eshel, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division. “No way.”

Rather than threatening to destroy Washington D.C. in a sea of nuclear flames – which even the Western media admits the DPRK has no way of doing, even if they wanted to – the DPRK is once again asserting its right to defend itself and strike first if the US provokes nuclear war. The stakes are too high, and although liberals in the US and Western Europe may complain about these measures, they do so from the safety and comfort of their homes within imperialist countries. The people of the DPRK hang in the balance of a life-and-death struggle against nuclear war with the US. No one in the DPRK wants war, including the leadership. However, the DPRK has made clear that they will not hesitate to retaliate and defend their people from nuclear holocaust.

Once we cut through the lies of the US media, one truth stands above all others for US citizens: The ball is in your court if you don’t want nuclear conflict with the DPRK. Washington has shown a total disregard for human life – whether Korean, Iraqi, Libyan, or even American – when it comes to starting imperialist wars. They have continued economic warfare on the DPRK in the form of sanctions and currently carry on war games in the Korean Peninsula. They are not going to change on their own.

Nuclear war is a disturbing and horrific possibility, and all freedom-loving people should do everything they can to prevent it from happening. In the US, this means organizing and rebuilding the anti-war movement as an anti-imperialist movement. Rather than playing into the racist and chauvinistic rhetoric of US politicians, the US Left should pursue international solidarity with oppressed nations like the DPRK and stand resolutely against any military aggression by their own government.

Incredibly, former Chicago Bulls Forward Dennis Rodman may have set a better line on the DPRK than most of the US Left. His recent travel to Democratic Korea may have irked social-chauvinists like George Stephanopoulos, but Rodman has allowed many people in the US to view the DPRK through a different light. Even Rodman said in his interview with Stephanopoulos that Kim Jong-Un wanted US President Barack Obama to “call him.” The level of distortions and outright falsehoods by the US media is incredible when we consider that the DPRK wants dialogue, not warfare. Anti-imperialists on the US Left must make this clear and challenge the false narrative put forth by the imperialist class.

Ultimately, this is why reactionaries like Stephanopoulos and US politicians decried Rodman’s trip so loudly. Realizing that the DPRK is not a nation hell-bent on destroying the people of the US, but rather a nation that enjoys many of the same things that Americans do, makes it harder for the imperialists to build popular consensus for war. The US Left should commend and learn from Rodman’s example and seek to build greater cultural and political ties with the people of the DPRK while boldly opposing sanctions and military aggression by the US.

How The Nuclear Test Affects Ordinary People in South Korea

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The following article below was originally published by NKnews.org

A look at how North and South Korean citizens are reacting South of the DMZ

By Markus Bell & Geoffrey Fattig
February 12, 2013

The latest North Korean nuclear test has scholars, analysts and journalists scrambling to hammer out something, anything, now that the other shoe has fallen.  Yet, most of the analysis will focus on the political reactions to the test while failing to address how the grinding cogs of the superstructure affect the lives of real people. Numbers will be crunched – payloads, productivities and potential loss – statistics will be pumped out, great scholars will prophesize a new arms race in Northeast Asia, but most will not, perhaps cannot, cast an eye on what might be happening at ground level. In an attempt to offer balance to the mountains of analysis being churned out, it is required we give a voice to the people of South Korea, including North Koreans living south of the border.

For South Koreans, the annoyance of having a much shortened Lunar New Year holiday this year was hardly made more enjoyable by news of the North’s successful nuclear test. If history is any guide, however, most South Koreans will simply shrug their shoulders and go about their business. It may come as a bit of a shock to westerners who obsess over Pyongyang’s every move, but South Koreans, for the most part, try their best to ignore the antics of their northern brethren. According to polling from the Asan Institute, inter-Korean relations ranked far below issues such as job creation, income inequality, and rising education costs in the recent presidential election. Furthermore, December’s successful missile test had very little impact on the election itself, with less than three percent of voters identifying it as “the most important issue.”

In contrast to the weeks following the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, when there were civil defense drills throughout Seoul, and, according to the East Asia Institute, nearly 70% of the public supported retaliatory military strikes, the prevailing response to the third nuclear test is much more likely to be a “there they go again” resigned acceptance.  A large part of this is down to the widespread perception that the North Korean nuclear and missile programs are primarily directed at the United States, and as such, South Korea has very little control over what actions the leaders in Pyongyang decide to undertake.

One area where this could have an impact is in South Koreans’ attitudes of how strongly President Park should attempt to engage with the North. A post-election poll in the Dong-a Ilbo, found that a majority of South Koreans supported renewed dialogue with the North and favored providing humanitarian aid “regardless of the political situation.” Might this support diminish in light of the latest nuclear test?

The answer to that question, while not entirely clear, suggests a major shift in public opinion is unlikely: An analysis of South Korean public opinion conducted by Stephan Haggard and Jaesung Ryu found little change in attitudes regarding supplying humanitarian aid to the North after the DPRK detonated its first nuclear device in 2006. More interestingly, there was actually an increase in public support for the additional supply of humanitarian aid in the months immediately following the second test in 2009. Taken together, and given the fact that this test was telegraphed weeks in advance, South Koreans would most likely be willing to give President Park the benefit of the doubt if she chose to overlook the recent provocations and give renewed engagement a try. Given that North Korea has followed up both of its previous nuclear tests with a renewed push for dialogue, this is clearly something that the leadership in Pyongyang is banking on to happen.

As for the 24,000 North Koreans currently living in the South, what effect will Tuesday’s action have on them? A comment we often heard while working with North Korean migrants in Seoul, was that they felt the past always followed them. Most had traveled so far and risked so much, yet, each time the North would threaten Seoul with the “lake of fire”, or the South would promise to “strike back with all its military capabilities” (personally we prefer lakes of fire as a more colourful threat), our North Korean friends would shrink a little lower in their seats. One instance in particular comes to mind; in 2009, following a group meeting, we were having lunch with friends from North Korea. As we shoveled bibimbap into our mouths, the news was humming in the background. All of a sudden, the table went silent and all heads locked on the TV.

Pictures of North Korean military flashed up on the screen, interspersed with stock images of exploding nuclear devices – these were reports on the second nuclear test. An almost palpable silence descended on the table and we must admit we were not in a rush to break it, curious as to what would be said next. The eldest of our three friends calmly placed his spoon on the table and declared, “These crazy bastards make it so hard for us to be here. Every time this happens, we feel some guilt.” On reflection, it would have been interesting to know if this young man was also pointing his finger at the sensationalist reporting of the South Korean media (although, admittedly, the testing of a nuclear device in a neighbouring country that openly declares its displeasure at your existence is already quite sensational).

Concerning the North Korean community in South Korea, the collective guilt felt each time the two governments clash, has several effects; firstly, it once again reminds South Korean society they are threatened, and alerts them to the possibility of a fifth column in their midst. Secondly, it hinders the settlement process for North Korean migrants as the weight of imagined responsibility is carried like a cross for many North Koreans. Thirdly, it emphasizes the marginalized status of North Koreans in South Korean society: if you imagine you share a portion of responsibility for catastrophic events, you will be more conscious of your inherent difference and outsider status, a feeling compounded by the real discrimination experienced by North Koreans.

The point is, for the North Koreans living in South Korea, the reported upcoming nuclear test represents yet another challenge to their existence and their loyalties. For many it is a moment when they may feel obligated to prove themselves once again, to practice their Seoul accents a little harder and, perhaps, think seriously about re-migrating to somewhere they can find some peace – and anonymity.

How The World Will Respond To North Korea’s Nuke

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The following article below was originally published by NKnews.org:

This test will be the first of many challenges for Park Geun-hye and could dictate South Korean policy towards the North for the next five years.

By Markus Bell & Geoffrey Fattig
February 12, 2013

Following the news today that North Korea has successfully tested another nuclear device, the international community is currently working to implement measures to ensure it is Pyongyang’s last.

Under the aegis of the UN, the international community is preparing to voice its condemnation while imposing fresh sanctions on Kim Jung Un’s regime – but this is where the truth ends and unfounded optimism begins. As with the previous two nuclear tests and the ineffective – yet rhetorically pleasing – response on the part of the international community, this round of “sanctions and tightening of existing measures,” to quote American UN ambassador, Susan Rice, will have led to a great deal of ink being spilt while doing precious little to alter North Korea’s present course of action.

The 2006 nuclear test brought near unanimous condemnation from the global community. The economic effects were instantly seen, as a ripple of instability coursed its way through the Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese stock exchanges. Statements expressing ‘deep concern’ were issued from the most unexpected corners of the globe, including China, North Korea’s closest ally. Nevertheless, condemnation stopped short of calling for military intervention and, after a brief period of finger wagging, things returned to the status quo of unceasing missile and nuclear weapons development by the DPRK, and half-hearted engagement efforts on the part of the United States through the Six Party Talks.

In 2009 a similar sequence of events played out; following the nuclear test, the international community roundly condemned the actions of North Korea, condemnation was concomitant with further sanctions.  Meanwhile, stock exchanges took a tumble, weapons were sold in larger quantities to South Korea, and Japan started investing in some hardware of its own in the form of a satellite early warning system.

In a game of swings and roundabouts, what factors could mark the aftermath of this test and its fallout (excuse the pun) as any different from what has come before?  Two important questions need to be examined:  first, will the Chinese finally decide to take the kind of tough steps that will get the attention of leaders in Pyongyang? Secondly, will the election of Park Geun-hye lead to any significant change in the inter-Korean relationship?

There are hopeful signs that China may be nearing the limit of its patience with its recalcitrant dependent. A recent editorial in the state-run Global Times called for reductions in aid should the North press ahead with its nuclear test. # Given that China supplies roughly 90% of the DPRK’s fuel and energy, it is the sole player in the game that has real leverage over the North. # While the present warnings suggest that times may be changing, if fears of regime collapse continue to trump worries over a nuclear North Korea, counting on the Chinese government to maximize its influence is a risky proposition at best.

The real catalyst for change could come from south of the DMZ.  On February 25th, Park Geun-hye officially enters the Blue House; while campaigning, the President elect was reported as offering “hopeful generalities” in regards to relations with the North. “I plan to break with this black-or-white, appeasement-or-antagonism approach and advance a more balanced North Korea policy,” Park is reported as promising. The operative word here, of course, is “hopeful.”  Until the latest back-and-forth invective following the missile test and UN sanctions, there were actually some positive signs coming from Pyongyang about re-engaging with its brethren in the South, including a prompt announcement of Park’s victory in North Korean media and Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s speech calling for “reconciliation” between the two sides.

The third nuclear test will be the first of many challenges for Park’s administration and could, for better or for worse, dictate South Korean policy towards the North for the next five years. Almost from the day he took office, outgoing President Lee Myung-bak painted himself into a corner in regards to North Korea, pursuing the misconceived idea that squeezing North Korea would force the regime to choose between weapons development and survival. Increased economic engagement with China on the part of the North rendered this strategy completely ineffective and ensured that many of the positive achievements of the ‘Sunshine Policy’ era were rolled back. The worst thing possible would be for President-elect Park to make the same mistake as her predecessor. In terms of inter-Korean dialogue and a possibility of seeing some concrete action towards the much idealised idea of reunification, an idea which persists despite the turmoil of the past 60 years, now is the time for engagement rather than stonewalling.

Given there is so much at stake in terms of peace and co-operation in Northeast Asia, let us hope the variable in how events play out this time will be the ‘balanced approach’ of Park. Let us hope the new South Korean leadership can break five years of stalemate with positive engagement, rather than empty saber-rattling. Let us hope “hopeful generalities” are more than they appear at first sight.