By Kim Tae-gyu
Stability in the communist regime of North Korea has strengthened in the aftermath of the sinking of South Korea's Navy frigate Cheonan, according to a leading private think tank in Seoul.
The Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI), an affiliate of the country's foremost conglomerate Samsung Group, disclosed its survey on Thursday, which showed that the North Korean regime has been beefed up after the Cheonan disaster.
A multinational investigation team concluded late last month that the Navy ship had sunk in the West Sea on March 26 due to an unprovoked torpedo attack by North Korea although Pyongyang denies it.
"It may sound strange as tensions run high on the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the incident. But experts from both home and abroad agree that the Northern regime has strengthened of late despite the mishap," SERI researcher Bahng Tae-seop said.
"Its foreign exchange rate has got back on track and the severe inflation was also tamed to reduce volatility there. The Cheonan case and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's visit to China are important factors."
SERI interviewed a total of 37 experts on Korean issues from five nations - the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea. All are members of the six-party nuclear talks.
The institute said the respondents evaluated the internal stability of North Korea at 44.14 points during the April-June period of this year, up from 42.14 points a quarter ago.
A stability index reading of 50 points or higher indicates optimistic views are stronger than pessimistic ones and vice versa.
"The stability index of North Korea is still less than the benchmark 50 points. But the rating improved despite the Cheonan tragedy," Bahng said. "This might lead to speculation that the North might have intended the torpedo attack expecting an upside."
In contrast, the security of South Korea plunged as demonstrated by SERI's Korean Peninsula Security Index (KPSI), which scored 46.54 points over the second quarter, down from 50.07 points a quarter before.
The KPSI reading of 50 or below indicates that the situation is not so good.
"The West Sea disaster negatively affected the security of South Korea. The reading is as low as midway through last year when the North conducted nuclear experiments," Bahng said.
"But there is a bright side ― South Korea mended fences with the United States as military anxieties sprouted up. The improved relationships with the U.S. prevented the KPSI from plummeting too much."
The SERI began to compile the KPSI in 2005 in order to monitor the security situation of the Korean Peninsula. It picks about 10 experts from each of the aforementioned five nations. But this time around, the number of interviewees was somewhat fewer at 37.