Posted : 2016-02-12 15:37
Updated : 2016-02-13 10:56

'South Korea is not toothless beast'

Frozen period expected after shutdown

By Kim Jae-kyoung

Kongdan Oh
South Korea's shutdown of the joint industrial complex in North Korea is a step in the right direction to deter further provocations, and it sends a clear message to all neighbors, according to a noted North Korea expert.

"South Korea is not a toothless beast," Kongdan Oh, an Asian studies specialist at the Institute for Defense Analyses in the U.S., said. "Sometimes it can bite, a nice change to all its neighbors.

"Gaeseong income is a slush fund source for the Kim Jong-un regime, so its closure is good, and gradually small and mid-sized companies invested in Gaeseong should find alternative places to conduct business, such as in Vietnam or Laos. They will bleed, but this initial bleeding is better than slow death."

Late Wednesday, the South Korean government said it had decided to shut down the Gaeseong Industrial Complex in North Korea, in response to the North's fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch.

She said discussions on the placement of the terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD) system with the U.S. can provide leverage for Seoul in talks with China over Pyongyang.

"THAAD will tell China that South Korea can make strategic choices in the interests of its national security," she said.

The expert, based in Virginia, expects no further immediate provocative acts from Pyongyang.

"North Korea has shown a consistent pattern after it initiated a conflict or a rotten situation," she said. "It did something bad and then it keeps quiet, as if nothing happened. When all others are relaxed a bit and the worst situation is over, it triggers an unexpected second problem.

"South Korea took a hard stance, Japan is alert, and the U.S. is upset and on full alert. So instead of further escalation, a sort of frozen period will continue."

Oh, who is also a research fellow at the Brookings Institution, criticized China for not playing its role in controlling North Korea's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

"China has been cowardly and using a double standard," she said. "It always kicks the ball in somebody else's court and tells them to do the work. If China wants to be a great power, respected by the global community, it has to carry out responsible behavior toward North Korea.

"Ultimately, a fully nuclearized and missile-developed North Korea will not listen to anybody, including China, and it will become China's dilemma."

She said Seoul should be very careful in handling this issue because it could become a source of conflict among the South Korean people, saying that any move to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense would not be of any help.

"South Korean citizens and the political and military elite should show solidarity instead of suffering through a South-South division," she said.

"A closer coordination with the U.S. and even Japan is a must for Korea, which must also be ready to continue this confrontation with strong resolution to be a truly respectful nation to guard itself with solidarity and resolution."

She said North Korean leader Kim Jung-un wants to draw world attention and solidify his leadership through nuclear tests.

"Kim Jung-un is still weak and not a mature person," she said. "He has a temper, a quick temper and a bullet-speed temper.Things are not going as he wishes. The North Korea-China relationship is worseningand social control is tough.

"Regular nuke testing shows that he is in charge and North Korea is not afraid of anybody, so the use of nukes is still effective as far as being attention-drawing, tools of deterrence and maintaining domestic control."

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