Is N. Korea really intervening in elections here?
This year, North Korea celebrates the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birth. For this reason, North Korea declared 2012 as the first year of building a “strong and prosperous nation,” and it has been carrying out propaganda on a massive scale. For North Korea, a “strong and prosperous nation” means a nation of strong military might and economic prosperity. However, North Korea suffered a recent embarrassment when the recent launch of the Kwangmyongsong 3 rocket, to celebrate the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birth, badly failed. The original intent of the propaganda campaign began to lose credibility. The current reality is that the North falls short by 1 million tons of food supply every year. Its serious lack of foreign currency and the less-than 20 percent operation rate of its factories have put the country on the edge of a cliff.
Efforts to force on its people the worship of Kim Jong-un as the “Supreme Leader” of the nation and the commander in chief of the military will not work on its young elite, who know about the outside world through the Internet. The leaders of the country’s military, quite a few of whom are in their 80s, wear old uniforms full of medals reaching their knees to show off their status, but this tradition has become a matter of international ridicule. These old people, who do not know the world outside well, are trying desperately to extend their wealth and power to the third generation of Kims by repeating their old ways of threatening South Korea and the United States with nuclear weapons and flattering China.
It will be difficult for North Korea, even with its terror system of a police state and constant surveillance by its Ministry of Public Security, to endure its current economic malaise. Even its food supply, largely dependent on aid from China, could become more problematic considering reports that China is feeling pressure through strong criticism from the international community on its deportation of North Korean defectors and its own change of leadership in the near future, which presumably makes Beijing wonder how long it should stand up for and protect Pyongyang.
China’s attitude toward North Korea’s launch of the Kwangmyongsong rocket was different from the past, as they have also expressed their opposition to it. With no choice left, North Korea has recently attempted to approach the United States. It is said that Ri Yong-ho, the vice foreign minister of North Korea, expressed in a seminar held at Syracuse University on March 7 that the North’s new leader “does not want to fight with the U.S.” and that if the United States signs a treaty with North Korea and puts it under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, it is willing to give up its nuclear weapons right away. According to reports from the press, he even said that he wished for the opening of liaison offices between the two countries in Pyongyang and Washington within this year.
However, President Barack Obama sternly said on the rocket launch that the time of rewarding North Korea’s provocations was over. The North is now at the edge of a cliff, as it recognizes that strong retribution from the international community will follow if it launches another rocket. Because of this, I think it might have targeted South Korea instead.
A recent news report speculated that Pyongyang is staging a mudslinging campaign toward the South to intervene in the presidential election in December and cause division in South Korea. It is expected that the North will continue to send a message that the current administration has failed completely at its policy toward North Korea by saying that it won’t deal with the Lee Myung-bak administration. The report also says that the North will provoke regional and class conflicts through Internet posts and spread stories of slander, conspiracies and groundless rumors such as a mad cow disease outbreak in South Korea. According to analysis from experts, the North believes that putting the South into a state of fear before the election will put a pro-North party into power, which will provide the North with aid, and allow it to control the South at will.
However, the old leaders of North Korea do not seem to know how much people’s sentiments have changed in South Korea. They should have never thought that their ploys would have the same effect as in the past on South Korea, a democratic G20 country whose GDP is 13th in the world and whose national brand is rising in value.
Even young people in South Korea are very disappointed with the North for always making threats and abusive remarks. As people’s thoughts on North Korea have changed, the pro-North leftists are losing ground. When those who are pro-North are told to live in the Stalinist state, they say that they don’t want to. I do not understand why North Korea tries to repeat the ways of mutual destruction when the people of South Korea want to help their brethren in the North, even if they have to skip a meal a day to do so, if North Korea apologizes and promises to give up its nuclear weapons program and stop violating the human rights of its people. It is a real pity, since South Korea has the intention to provide North Korea with all the help it needs.
Due to the rocket launch, North Korea is now totally isolated in the international community. Why does it have to launch a rocket that the whole world, even China, opposes? It seems pathetic that the North’s old leaders in their eighties, oblivious of the outside world, only try to please their new leader, Kim Jong-un, in this way.
The elections for the 19th National Assembly of South Korea ended as a truly democratic, peaceful event, with the world paying close attention. It put the North’s provocation into the shade.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the KimChangJoon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).