15 October 2008

Rising inter-Korean tensions

This week, an attractive North Korean woman in her mid-3os, who had defected to South Korea in 2001, was convicted of spying for the North, and sentenced to five years in prison. Specifically, she had given sexual favors to South Korean military officers in exchange for locations of key military installations and possibly the whereabouts of key former North Korean government officials who have defected south. She was eligible for lifetime prison term, though her cooperation with the investigation, as well as a statement of recantation, led the judge to reduce her prison term to five years.

North Korea has been so enraged by this development that it is now threatening to cut off all ties with South Korea. Government-level ties have already been cut, since the Lee Myung-bak government started taking a harder line on the North. The North has consistently labeled Lee as a "traitor scum who sucks up to the Americans" - one of the few things the North seems to get right (though Lee only sucks up to the Republicans, and would really hate the likely Obama presidency). Despite Lee, and North Korea's strong dislike of him, civilian-level ties have continued, in the form of bus day trips from South Korea to Kaesong (the 100,000th South Korean tourist entered Kaesong this week), and in the form of a joint industrial park, also in Kaesong, run by South Korean entrepreneurs to take advantage of cheaper northern labor. If the North makes good on this threat, all of this will stop too.

I have to say, however, that by cutting off all ties to South Korea, Kim Jong-il will prove himself to be putting his own power and influence above the needs of his people - just like Lee Myung-bak. South Korea has the money, the technology, and the brotherly love that are the necessary ingredients for the revitalization of North Korea's economy, infrastructure, and society. North Korea also needs to understand that in South Korea, the government represents the will of the people, and all southern regimes, not just leftist ones, need to be respected - even though in the case of the current Lee Myung-bak government, the South Koreans realize that they have clearly made a mistake.

Let's think again. For example, Kim Jong-il has nothing to lose by, say, letting South Korea fix his rail network. He will gain a much better infrastructure - one that he desperately needs but cannot really afford - for next to nothing, and the South Koreans also benefit by being able to run their trains, on the renovated northern tracks, to China, Russia, and Europe, for improved trade links and lower transportation costs. In addition, trains to/from South Korea will need to pay tolls to North Korea as they pass through, and that will also prove to be a good source of income for Kim. If Kim truly loved the Korean race, as the propaganda says he does, he would sign up for this in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, I don't have much hope for the Kim regime. And I don't trust Lee Myung-bak either, especially when he would rather fund the Republicans in the US than improve his own country. Both governments must go. I'll say this one more time: when that happens, and through train service to London is launched from Seoul, please sign me up.

AP via Yahoo!