N. Korean leadership must call off rocket launch
North Korea's decision to push ahead with its rocket launch by Dec. 29 dashed cold waters on the wishful thinking of many South Koreans.
Though disappointing, the news was hardly for those who know Pyongyang better. The leaders of the Stalinist regime will not change their minds as long as what Pyongyang thinks as the bottom lines of its missile diplomacy remains unchanged.
The biggest reason the North Korean leadership will push ahead with the long-range rocket test is the firing is directed mainly at its domestic population. Not only must Kim Jong-un follow the death-bed counsel of his father but also the young new leader needs to show his diplomatic toughness without being cajoled or coerced by foreign governments, including the Chinese.
Behind such intransigence is the North's conviction that only nuclear weapons and missiles can guarantee its national survival from foreign adversaries, especially the United States and South Korea. Outsiders can criticize this as a mistaken notion, or a downright illusion, but the problem is that a sense of persecution among North Koreans, leaders and ordinary people alike, seems to have reached a stage of self-hypnosis.
And this explains in part the reason for the relative quiet among North Korean people about the costly test amid the severe food shortage.
No amount of threats about international sanctions ― or even actual sanctions ― will likely change the direction of Pyongyang, which knows how to survive amid economic isolation better than any regime. Besides, there will be limitations in China's joining in the U.N.'s disciplines in view of the North's strategic importance for Beijing currently vying with the U.S. for regional and global hegemony. The increasingly hard lives of North Korean residents have long been outside of their leaders' interests.
As pitiable and abominable the situation is, this will be the reality facing the new administrations in South Korea and the U.S. The past four or five years of hard-line policy, called principle-centered diplomacy in Seoul and ''strategic patience" in Washington, has made Pyongyang a nuclear power with up to 50 atomic bombs that can reach anywhere in this part of the world and fly across the Pacific in a few years. As a U.S. expert of North Korea recently told Yonhap News Agency, the Obama administration has made Pyongyang a winner.
Joel Wit, former State Department official in charge of Korea, accused the U.S. of ''having basically subcontracted" its strategy on North Korea to South Korea's conservative government. He then said South Korea's upcoming leadership transition is very important, adding it would be ''really the only hope" to move away from the strategic patience. Having made essentially similar calls for the past five years, we can hardly agree more with the U.S. guru, who will find a consenting voice from anyone genuinely interested in breaking the stalemate.
Both of the major presidential candidates promise new, more positive approaches toward North Korea. There is a big difference, though. Conservative Park Geun-hye will inherit the current administration's denuclearization-first principle, while liberal Moon Jae-in prefers a two-track policy by separating nuclear and other inter-Korean issues.
In inter-Korean affairs, too, the choice will likely be between five more years of status quo and new openings.