Friday, January 17, 2003
Thursday, January 16, 2003
With the red star of North Korea emblazoned on its funnel, a 300-passenger ferry from North Korea eased into the port of Niigata today, dropping anchor in the midst of Japan's debate over imposing economic sanctions on North Korea.
To conservatives, the ship is an unwarranted lifeline for North Korea's recalcitrant Communist government, illicitly ferrying to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, tens of millions of dollars raked off a vast empire of pinball and gambling operations operated in Japan by ethnic Koreans loyal to North Korea.
To liberals, the ship, the Mangyongbong-92, built with donations from ethnic Koreans, is a human rights issue, providing the lone passenger link between the roughly 150,000 pro-Pyongyang Koreans living in Japan and their relatives in North Korea.
More than that, at a time when Japan is alone among Asian nations in seriously debating economic sanctions against North Korea if it does not drop its nuclear weapons programs, the ship has emerged as a lightning rod of sorts.
I rather like the capitalistic solution to the dilemma:
Perhaps being shut down might be the best for all concerned. Two weeks ago, the Hyundai business group of South Korea proposed to North Korea that the 9,672-ton Mangyongbong-92 be docked as a semipermanent hotel at a pier near Mount Kumgang, a tourist resort that Hyundai runs about 100 miles south of Wonsan.
Koreans are likely to be subjected to worsening economic difficulties this year, with the nation's so-called "economic misery index" for 2003 marking a substantial rise from last year, a report warned yesterday.
According to data compiled by the LG Economic Research Institute on the basis of OECD and IMF statistics, the economic misery index for Korea jumped from 5.7 last year to 6.3 this year.
Compared with 5.5 for China, 4.5 for Japan and 3.3 for Singapore, Korea is likely to undergo further economic contraction in 2003, the LG Group think tank said in a report.
"The mounting inflation and unemployment rates, to name a few, will impinge upon the livelihood of the Koreans," said the report. "Korea's economic misery index was lower than the OECD average of 8.6, but turned out to be slightly higher than the average of Asia's developing countries, estimated at 6."
Defense Minister Lee Jun said yesterday that North Korea's decision to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its threat to end a moratorium on missile tests were meant to force the United States back to the negotiating table.Perhaps. But I fail to see how the DPRK"s behavior would be any different it were motivated by the simple desire to acquire nuclear weapons.
"The North's latest moves are seen as brinkmanship to draw direct negotiations with the United States," Lee said at the National Assembly's Defense Committee.
Here's a slogan for '04, for whatever candidate wants it: " ______ in '04: JUST CRAZY ENOUGH TO WANT TO BE YOUR PRESIDENT!"
Mr. Roh said he would not contemplate a military strike against the North Korean nuclear complex at Yongbyon, even if it were found that Pyongyang was reprocessing nuclear fuel for bomb production. "I don't think we should even go so far as to imagine such a situation," he said.As I have said before, we'd better get used ot the idea of a North Korea with nuclear weapons.
The president-elect also said that South Korea would not develop nuclear weapons in response to North Korean armament, asserting that "nuclear development will not be permitted in Korea either North or South."
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, who came here after two days of talks in Seoul, will meet with Chinese diplomats on Wednesday. He is expected to ask Beijing to help persuade North Korea, a nominal ally, to back off from its recent nuclear threats and convince it that that the United States has no desire for war.
China also opposes North Korean development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. But neither does it want social chaos or war on its borders, and it hopes to head off harsh international economic sanctions against the North that would send hordes of refugees into China.
"The key at present is for the parties concerned to resume dialogue," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Zhang Qiyue, said at a regularly scheduled briefing today. "We've had frequent contact with all the parties concerned."
In response to a question, Ms. Zhang said, "If the relevant sides are willing to hold dialogue in Beijing, I think we would have no difficulties with that."
Given the very narrow range of options that appear to be preferable to China, it remains to be seen whether it can steer the current crisis in a direction it wants.
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Monday, January 13, 2003
An Asian diplomat emerged from one of the many meetings on defusing the North Korean nuclear crisis saying that no one could know what Kim Jong Il wants: a nuclear arsenal or new relationship with the West.
But the real mystery, he said, is here in Washington. "I'd just like to get a handle on what President Bush has in mind," he said. This administration, he said, "sends as many conflicting signals as the North Koreans."
The United States is urged to take this opportunity to engage North Korea again as it did after Pyongyang announced back in March 1993 that it was dropping out of the NPT. As a result of subsequent talks, the United States kept North Korea from developing plutonium-based weapons until now. What can it lose if it should give the communist state another chance to deliver on its promise?
Critics will say this amounts to appeasement. But I am hard pressed to come up with many cases in which a hard-line resulted in sincere changes in behavior.
The United States is willing to consider supplying energy to North Korea provided it dismantles its nuclear weapons programs, a top U.S. official said in Seoul yesterday.
"Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the United States, with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area," Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said.