Sunday, March 22, 2009

PBS focus on North Korea ratcheting up its rhetoric

PBS has an interesting piece on North Korea's rhetoric rising as the date of its planned rocket launch approaches. One of the guests is Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and a prominent North Korea watcher.

The other is Dr Balbina Hwang, a Harvard PhD formerly of The Heritage Foundation and a special advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs during the last two years of the Bush Administration. I'll leave it up to the reader to figure out which picture is who.

Harrison takes his typical position where he points out that Pyongyang is behaving like a normal country that is trying to stand up to the transgressions of others. He largely blames the Lee Myungbak government for the deterioration of Seoul's ties with the North:
The new president of South Korea, President Lee Myung-bak has repudiated the position taken by the two previous presidents of South Korea, which was that North Korea and South Korea under two summit agreements were going to move toward a confederation and through gradual improvement in relations. He came to office and said they were too soft on North Korea and he said we were not bound by the 2000 and 2007 summits reached by Kim Dae-jung and his successor.

So North Korea has been in a great swivet over that. They feel that the two summit declarations were a policy of coexistence in which South Korea repudiated the idea of absorbing or trying to bring about the collapse of North Korea and absorbing it, and that Lee Myung-bak has opened up the possibility that South Korea really wants to destabilize North Korea. And so whatever we may think of that perception, that is the perception of the North based on my trip there in January. So they're very spooked when the United States and South Korea have military exercises against this background.
Dr Hwang doesn't buy that, of course. And while she worked for Bush, she isn't ready to badmouth Obama:
I frankly don't agree with that view. First, I don't think that Lee Myung-bak is particularly hard-line. But second, I think that it is a mistake to argue that Lee Myung-bak has caused this behavior. There is no doubt it's a handy excuse for North Korean to claim that's the cause.

North Korea I think very much needs to test the Obama administration. I think that North Koreans were frankly naively hopeful that they could get a very good deal if the Democrats came into office. And I think what they're finding is that they aren't so sure about the answer anymore. And it's unclear to me if President Obama will be any more friendly toward North Korea then President Bush ended up being toward the end of his administration.
A third discussant, Han Park, tries to point out why North Korea is engaging in this kind of brinkmanship:
They are sort of desperate. The economic situation and their diplomatic situation. The Obama administration has not embraced them. And they are cornered in a way. They're very, very emotional, and they like to show that they have the military capability to deter any kind of aggression.
None of this is really new; it's several classical ways of looking at Pyongyang in the context of a new American administration operating in a heightened level of tension thanks to the looming missile launches. But especially for those new to the topic, it provides a good grounding of what different sides of the issue believe.

1 comment:

  1. the issue of North Korea a heated issue for sure; not only the US but all of Asia is determinedly against N. Korea going nuclear


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