Troublesome North Korea
I recently read that North Korean soldiers eat salt as a snack in order to relieve hunger beyond our imagination; this causes the body to swell up and could lead to death from salt poisoning.
I also read that the people of North Korea, who endured incredible suffering in the belief that Kim Jong-il would solve the country’s famine, have realized that Kim betrayed them and only cares about his son and heir to the throne.
Hunger is harder to bear with than anything, and it makes people desperate. The population decrease of Pyongyang, now at half its previous size, shows the seriousness of the situation.
Unlike the previous decade of South Korean governments, which have given North Korea over $7 billion during that time, South Korea has drastically reduced its food support to North Korea during the past three years of the Lee Myung-bak administration.
The only relief North Korea has received from the South is the $50 million annual income from the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. At a recent summit between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his American counterpart Barack Obama, the subject of preventing additional provocations by North Korea was broached for the first time; indeed, China’s attitude toward North Korea seemed different from its previous unwavering support.
The international community has turned its back on North Korea, and U.N. aid has also been reduced dramatically, to the point where North Korea is even running out of its stored military provisions. I think that North Korea is a country on the verge of collapse.
It is hard to tell if we should be happy or sad about what’s going on in North Korea, and the future looks uncertain there. Despite the creation of the Unification Ministry, the continuing waves of refugees from North Korea, and many research institutes and scholars working on that issue, no one has provided a clear idea about Korea’s unification.
It’s more likely that a foreign politician or foreign scholar’s thoughts on North Korea will make the news, even though they usually don’t say anything special and clearly show less knowledge of the Korean Peninsula than Korean scholars.
However, all of these foreigners who have been to North Korea talk as though they’re experts, which puzzles people as to which stories are right. Some think Kim is close to death; others say he looks healthy. Some say North Korea has either nuclear weapons or missiles that can reach Alaska; others disagree.
Some say China will take over North Korea if it becomes unstable; others say Japan will get involved because South Korea lacks the capacity to absorb its sister country. Things have gotten incredibly complicated.
The current administration holds the position that six-party talks should be held only after South and North Korea hold their own talks, resolving the issues of the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island. I believe this is the right position.
Calling for six-party talks without any preconditions is North Korea’s strategy to buy time. These talks, over the past few years, have not produced any agreements other than to hold another meeting in the future.
The level of the six-party talks should be raised in order to get North Korea to abandon their nuclear program, to at least a ministerial meeting. A deputy assistant or vice minister-level talk is not enough.
At this juncture, the rank of the U.S. ambassador to South Korea should be raised. The rank should be at least on par with the U.S. ambassador to Japan; someone with the rank of deputy undersecretary from the State Department is not enough for the job.
Look at the men assigned to be U.S. ambassador to Japan ― the list included former vice president and presidential candidate Walter Mondale, former House Speaker Tom Foley, former Senate leader Howard Baker, and other well-known names.
Now that relations between South and North Korea have become a complicated international issue, if Seoul would directly ask President Obama to assign a big shot as ambassador to South Korea, with the power to conduct direct negotiations, then he would surely comply with the request.
It is said that China holds the solution to the North Korea issue, and that as the second largest economy in the world, the country should help contribute to world peace. It seems unlikely that China would make any genuine effort for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
We are in a difficult position, having to cooperate with China in economic issues while attempting to check the power that China has on the global political stage. North Korea makes that position even more difficult.
Now is the time to convince China diplomatically that being allied with South Korea, one of the G20 nations, instead of hereditary dictatorship North Korea, fits well with their status as the second most powerful country in the world, and will help their political and economic relationships.
Our recent military talks with North Korea have not seemed to bring any results. The level of these talks should also be raised to general-level in order to achieve any result.
We should be the ones initiating the unification of the divided nation; it is unrealistic to depending on the surrounding world powers. We should develop a roadmap to unification, and persuade the surrounding countries to cooperate with us.
And 2011 is a year of preparation for unification. Our country is too small to join the developed nations of the world without unification. We should take the initiative and let the surrounding world powers follow our lead. To do so, we need a clear unification policy.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. Congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).