Friday, October 25, 2002

Blogging will be light-to-nonexistent this weekend. I have mid-term exams to grade, a colloquium on Korean film to attend, and a marathon to run. See y'all next Monday.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: Kim Dae Jung wants to continue with his policy of sunshine toward the DPRK.
Mr. Kim carefully dismissed both military action and economic sanctions, the two approaches that he said were the only alternatives to dialogue. "Military action can result in great tragedy," he said. "Nobody wants that." Economic sanctions, he added, would give North Korea "the freedom for nuclear responses."
The contrast between DJ and presidential front-runner Yi Hoi-chang on this issue is becoming more pronounced.
Mr Lee, candidate for the conservative opposition Grand National party, said that North Korea should "actively co-operate" with US demands that it halt development of nuclear weapons.... Mr Lee argued that the sunshine policy had granted too much economic and political support to North Korea without getting enough in return. Under the peace policy, aid would only be granted after North Korean scaled down its military threat.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

The DPRK has announced that it will not allow the children of adbucted Japanese to visit Japan. The excuse: "because they have to go to school." If the DPRK were as desperate and eager to mend relations with the outside world as some seem to think, allowing these visits would seem to be an easy way to demonstrate the new, kinder, gentler, DPRK. Perhaps the distrust of the outside is so ingrained, so reflexive that the DPRK can't behave otherwise.

A Chosun Ilbo (English Edition) story has this headline: "Candidates Say No to NK Nuke Plan". The actual text of the story indicates, however, that there are considerable differences of opinion concerning what should be done about the re-discovered North Korean nuclear threat:

Some presidential candidates criticized the government saying it should not act as if nothing has happened when a severe crisis has occurred. They added that financial aid to the North that can be used to build nuclear weapons should be frozen and that the top priority of talks with Pyongyang should be nuclear weapons issues.

While Roh [Moo-hyun] toed the president's line by emphasizing the need for dialogue, Lee [Hoi-chang]stressed that Pyongyang's nuclear issue is not a subject of compromise, and Chung [Mong-joon] suggested the government reconsider the light-water reactor project and the supply of heavy oil.

Kwon [Young-ghil] said the government needed to tell the US that it is also responsible for not keeping its promise to complete the light-water reactors by 2003 and to loosen economic sanctions against North Korea.

How much of this is due to actual differences of opinion and how much is due to campaign posturing remains to be seen.

An aside: note this photo of the presidential candidates. Why is it that South Korean politicians seem to feel that having grey hair is a liability? Contrast this official photo of previous ROK President Kim Young Sam with the greying opposition crusader of the 1980's. What gives?

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

A bit silly, but I couldn't resist linking to this breaking news story.

An essay by Andrew Mack (distributed by NAPSNET but apparently not posted yet) makes the common sense argument: "For the US, war with Iraq is possible; war with
North Korea is not." It praises the 1994 Agreed Framework as "the least-worst option. It avoided war and it stopped a nuclear weapons program that, within a very few years, would have produced enough surplus fissile material for the cash-strapped North Koreans to export to other pariah states - like Iraq." This is, of course, the conventional wisdom that I have often parroted. But if one looks at the issue from the perspective of loss of human life (regardless of national origin), things might look a little different.

An editorial in today's Washington Post muses whether we are seeing a "New North Korea". Written by Susan Shirk of the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation in San Diego, the piece makes some good observations and a couple of questionable ones:

North Korea's stunning admission that it has been cheating on its 1994 agreement with the United States and enriching uranium for nuclear weapons is the latest in a string of remarkable confessions from Pyongyang that includes an apology for the killing of five South Korean sailors in a naval battle and the admission that North Koreans kidnapped Japanese citizens.

This is, I think, a welcome reminder that in some respects we are in new territory here. In the past the DPRK has generally refrained from publicly admitting to much of anything. At the same time, these changes aren't taking place in a vacuum. Domestic modes of behavior and international context both matter.

In late September I visited North Korea for five days at the invitation of a government think tank and had the opportunity to talk with national and local officials, as well as with some ordinary North Koreans. Like other recent visitors, I came away convinced that the reforms were serious and significant, albeit at a very early and fragile stage. My background as a scholar of China's economic reforms helped me compare North Korea's measures with China's.

This is where things start to get problematic. Does she honestly believe that the people she spoke to gave her anything more or less than the official party line? Imagine writing an op-ed that included the line: "I have spoken to a number of North Korean defectors, and they said . . ." Clearly not getting the whole story here. She continues:

To lay the groundwork for structural changes, prices and wages have been raised for the first time in more than 20 years. Everyone I spoke to had received a salary increase of 10 to 20 times their original wage. Prices of goods in food markets and department stores have moved closer to international prices in what amounts to a drastic currency devaluation.

"Everyone I spoke to ..."? Moreover, my understanding is that while the wage and price increases do make North Korean prices closer to international prices, this was an artificial measure designed at least in part to punish those who had hoarded the old currency (by making it practically useless) and there has yet to be any announcement to the effect that wages or prices will be allowed to fluctuate according to any market imperatives, domestic or international. This may be a future step, but it has yet to happen.

Any economic reform program in North Korea faces daunting obstacles, many of which Shirk notes:

North Korea's early stumbles reflect its inexperience and lack of competent economists. Moreover, North Korea lacks the natural advantages -- a rich resource base and large domestic market -- that China has. Fuel and electricity shortages hamper production.

Reform-minded North Korean officials freely admit that they also confront formidable political resistance from the military.

In addition, the domestic and international contexts are so different as to render meaningless comparisons between North Korea today and the PRC in the early 1980's. Simply put, the PRC in the early 1980's didn't have to compete with the PRC and its huge pool of labor; contemporary North Korea does. What comparative advantage does the DPRK have in today's globalized economy? Seen in this context, the now-revoked decision to choose Yang Bin to head the Sinuiju Special Economic Zone actually may be the result of an astute assessment that creating a shadowy haven for gamblers, smugglers and n'er-do-wells might be one of the only things (besides nukes, missiles, drugs, counterfeit money, and really cool mass demonstrations) the DPRK can offer to the world.

The editorial's conclusion:

In this context, how should the United States handle the North Korean nuclear problem? We should not treat North Korea like Iraq (that is, threaten to use military force to disarm it and change its regime) or like Pakistan and India (give the nuclear program a pass because the country is strategically important).

Instead we should treat North Korea like North Korea: Build on its desire to reform its economy by pursuing a negotiated approach to closing down completely and finally, and under international verification, its programs for weapons of mass destruction and missiles.

It just occurred to me: I am unaware of a single case in which a government that seriously pursued the acquisition of nuclear weapons was stopped from doing so by "a negotiated approach" and "international verification." (If anyone knows differently, please let me know). Why, especially since the recent revelations demonstrate the DPRK's contempt for previous attempts at "a negotiated approach" should we expect North Korea to be the exception? Scary thought, that.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Useless factoid for the day: there are at least 22 websites devoted wholly or partially to the 70's and 80's rock-opera ensemble Styx. Bring on the apocalypse!

This would ruin anyone's day (man or beast)

Aidan Foster-Carter with an unusually candid (for a journalist, not for him personally) description of his reaction to the revelation about North Korean nukes.

By some accounts, Japan, after essentially breaking with the U.S. on its North Korean policy with the Koizumi visit to P'yongyang, is now moving closer to the American (hard-)line on the DPRK.

What were the North Koreans thinking? Here's one opinion on the subject:

Faced with the urgent need to fend off economic collapse, Mr. Kim's confession of a uranium-based nuclear weapons program appears to many experts to have been a pragmatic, if ultimately misguided response to an insurmountable obstacle: a Bush Administration that had little interest in engagement.

Admission of the nuclear program rather than denial, appears to have been intended to "persuade the world that Kim Jong Il is a new kind of leader, and his leadership does not resort to terrorist means, or secrecy," said Han S. Park, director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia.

I would more readily accept this kind of explanation if the DPRK had simultaneously 'fessed up about their nuclear program and announced its complete termination.

The DPRK says it is ready to talk about the nukes it only recently admitted having. Sign of sincere desire for change or of more of the same?

I listened to today's White House Press Briefing on C-SPAN on the way to work today. Could both the press and the press secretary have designed a system more calculated to spin and obfuscate than the current press briefing? I think not. "Regime Change" has apparently morphed from meaning " change in the regime's ruler" (e.g. Saddam must go) to "a change in the regime's behavior" (e.g. Saddam must shape up) and yet Fleischer has the gall to say that this is what the President and his administration have been saying all along. Has the Bush administration changed its policies on North Korea? Ari must have said "Our position is still we are consulting with our allies about it" or its equivalent five or six times. How did we get to this state of affairs in which the press asks questions far less calculated to elicit information than to confront the government and the White House responds by not responding? What a colossal waste of time and energy!

Lots in the news but an agonizingly slow dial-up connection combined with the phones going down (nearby construction cut everyone's lines within miles) meant no blogging this weekend. What would I say anyway about yet another sniper attack that has seemingly yielded little in the way of clues to the sniper's identity? About the arrests of people who may or may not be related to the case? About the rather bizarre public conversation between the authorities and someone who may be the sniper or a witness? Not much.

It has occurred to me that the sniper has attracted so much attention not only because of the potential link to terrorism but also because it speaks so directly and chillingly to many of our post-9/11 fears about how open our open society really is. We're so used to being able to do mundane things such as fill the car with gas or shop at the grocery store with little or no thought to safety that it is jarring to realize how tenuous this safety can be. Of course people in other parts of the world or other times are much more used to routine violence but we have been spoiled.

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