Thursday, December 12, 2002

ITS ALWAYS ABOUT US: Interesting New York Times piece on the domestic South Korean implications of the U.S. seizure (and release?) of a boatload of North Korean Scud missiles destined for Yemen. The headlines and dramatic footage of the event have overshadowed anti-American sentiment and may help conservative presidential canadidate Yi Hoi-chang win the December 19th election. Of course South Korean conspiracy theorists argue that this is all part of an American plot to aid Lee:
In South Korea, where conspiracy theories are popular, radio talk shows crackled this morning with questions about why the United States had tracked the ship for nearly a month before making the inspection, and why the James Bond-style occupation of the ship was so well filmed for television news.

"In the current political situation in South Korea, the intention would be to calm down anti-American feelings ignited by the schoolgirls' deaths by the U.S. army vehicle and to show U.S. power at the last moment of presidential election," an analyst wrote in Hankyoreh Shinmun, a liberal daily.

"Suggesting that this was a U.S. conspiracy to put Lee Hoi Chang in power and to respond to anti-Americanism would be very popular here," said Scott Snyder, the Korea representative for the Asia Foundation.
But the money graf is this:
"It fits with a very longstanding Korean tradition of relating everything happening remotely in the world to what is happening here."
I have observed and commented on many times. A good number of Koreans, both North and South, sincerely believe that the world pays close attention to Korean events and is constantly scheming to keep Korea from assuming its rightful place as a world power.

Even if the Americans adjusted the timing of the seizure of the ship in order to have maximum impact on South Korean elections, this still doesn't explain why the North Koreans, who presumably would rather that Roh Mu-hyun wins, would send the ship out at this volatile time rather than waiting until the elections are over.

HAS LAW AND ORDER FINALLY JUMPED THE SHARK? I'm probably overreacting, but last night's episode was the worst I've seen. Ostensibly about falungong it quickly degenerated into contrived speeches and cliches. No suspense about the identity of the murderer either: it was obvious that it was the "I no speak English" (so, therefore, I am simple-minded) driver. Always interesting how movies and tv depict foreigners: the guy can't string together a grammatical sentence, yet he has no trouble understanding everything the police and lawyers say to him (things like "perjury"). "I no want go back China; I want stay America; so I kill girl" Have the scriptwriters ever actually spoken to someone for whom English is not their first language? Ridiculous!

"China shares the same concern that the United States has ... and that is that we have to find a way to de-nuclearize the peninsula of Korea," Armitage told reporters. "I'm sure the Chinese will be urging some different behavior on the North Koreans."

China's Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate comment on the talks with Armitage, who was to meet later Thursday with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Vice Premier Qian Qichen, the government's top foreign policy official.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry said Thursday it would immediately end a freeze on its nuclear power plant in response to an allied decision to suspend oil aid to Pyongyang, Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported.

The nuclear reactor, suspected of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, was frozen in 1994 under the Agreed Framework with the United States.

Yonhap quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying in a statement that Pyongyang would "immediately lift the freeze on and reactivate and build nuclear facilities necessary for power production."

Still, note the following
A South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman said: "We have not received such a notification from the North. But if it is true, we cannot but express strong concern."

"North Korea-U.S. relations are heading toward the end of a cliff, but we have to see if the North is actually about to implement this or if it is using it as a negotiation tactic," the spokesman added.

Brinkmanship or does the DPRK really want to become a nuclear weapons state? I tend to lean toward the latter opinion but who can tell? For a similar account see here (NYT: free registration required)

With these possibilities, our options are necessarily limited to one: to encourage reform and opening North Korea to promote a regime change led by both moderate and hard-line policies that seek to prevent North Korean military adventure. We must, in short, diminish the prospect of danger from a dangerous nation and accelerate change in a less dangerous nation.
How is this to be accomplished?
It is important for Japan to refrain from adopting a policy of obstinate refusal to give up anything. Irrational emotions will not work in a diplomatic campaign that should have its objectives firmly grounded in the national interest.

North Korea should be looking to Washington, as it prepares for an attack against Iraq. President George W. Bush's administration is now insisting that the program to provide two light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea should be suspended. We urge the Americans to use caution and not push North Korea too far.

At the same time, international cooperation must extend beyond the relationship of Japan, the United States and South Korea. In a recent meeting, leaders of China and Russia issued a united call for the removal of all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, clearly criticizing North Korea for its nuclear program.

Koizumi should also ask China and Russia to increase their pressure on North Korea. Japan should also ask that Canada, Britain and other European nations that recognize North Korea diplomatically to cooperate in this campaign.

Leading South Korean activists yesterday tried to cool off intensifying anti-American protests, saying that demonstrators must not target the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula.

``The United States is South Korea's traditional ally,'' the activists said in a statement. ``The U.S. forces is absolutely needed for us to protect our interests and for the power balance in Northeast Asia.''

The statement by 48 activists was issued to coincide with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's visit to Seoul to discuss the rising anti-American sentiment and other issues. The activists included Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice leader Soh Kyung-suk, and Korean Buddhist leader Songwolju.
This news account is remarkably vague about the number of constituents these "activists" claim to represent. Do they outnumber the "nearly 600 activists" who "held a rally in a park near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to protest the visit by Armitage"? Moreover, I am increasingly convinced that the term "activist" has lost all explanatory utility. What is an "activist?" What significant meaning would be lost by replacing "activist" with "person"?

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC OFFERS AN ANALYSIS OF THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE. A bit superficial for a take-down but every little bit helps.

UPDATE: An erudite and alert reader notes that the article states the following:
"The disappearances have been attributed to [...] Alien abductions, the existence of a mysterious third dimension created by unknown beings, and..."

To which he quips:
A "mysterious" third dimension? That'd be the hypothetical 'Z' axis, I guess...

Quite right!

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Some 50 members of 10 civic groups including the "Public Movement for SOFA Revision," the "Union Demanding the Return of US Bases," and "People's Committee for the Death of Teenage Girls" staged an anti-American demonstration Tuesday denouncing the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

During the demonstration, family members of late schoolgirls originally scheduled to submit a remonstration letter to the US embassy, revoked their original plan due to the embassy's decision to dispatch a regular official to accept the letter, rather than a high-ranking one.

An "Anti-War" student group also held a meeting to discuss the current issue at Yonsei University in the morning, while some 30 members of the Political Cartoonists Organization and Korean Cartoon Union held a press conference at Dongsung-dong protesting the acquittal of two US soldiers involved in the accident, which killed two school girls.
Of course if we're talking about only 80 people, this hardly seems a harbinger of future developments.

WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? A ship loaded with Scud missiles has been stopped in the Indian Ocean. According to CNN the unflagged ship's crew is North Korean.
U.S. intelligence had been monitoring the ship since it left North Korea several days ago headed for the Arabian Sea region, Pentagon officials said.

Scuds are the type of ballistic missiles that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein used to attack both Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Persian Gulf War.

But U.S. officials said there is no belief that the ship was headed to Iraq. They said there was every suggestion that the ship, with its cargo of potential weapons of mass destruction, was headed to the Horn of Africa.

As to ownership or nationality of the ship, a senior official told CNN it appears to be a "stateless vessel" and said there was not much in the way of official paperwork on the ship.

News of the ship's interception came amid increased tension between the United States and North Korea. In October, North Korea acknowledged it was developing nuclear weapons despite its 1994 agreement to freeze its nuclear weapons development program.

This will help the DPRK's image in the world.

Monday, December 09, 2002

THE DEFINITIVE TAKE ON E-MAIL SCAMS:. (scroll down to "Marcus Noland of the Institute for International Economics brings us up to date on the new technology of scamming . . .") Amazing how many people have actually fallen for these.

BIGFOOT A HOAX? Say it isn't so!

LEONARD NIMOY, EAT YOUR HEART OUT. "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" now has some competition. WARNING! The "Lords of the Rhymes" have succumbed to the conceit that only liberal use of f*** and motherf***** gives rappers any credibility. Still, if you can tune out the superfluous profanity, the rest is hilarious.

"DON'T THROW IT AWAY": A must-read for all you who can't bear get rid of perfectly good garbage.

COMING SOON TO A MIDDLE EASTERN NATION NEAR YOU: I posted a link to this movie poster earlier but can't seem to find it.

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