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  1. 1. PROMISES AND PARADOXES IN KOREAN PENINSULA Keshav Prasad BhattaraiWith the successful launching of its three-stage rocket on last December, North Korean earnedthe status of 10th member of the world‟s prestigious space club. It has also provided two majoradvantages to the young leader of the most reclusive communist regime of the world. One was thehigh level of confidence that Kim Jong –un achieved in securing internal unity for his dynastic ruleand the other was his increased bargaining power against its neighbors – especially the South Koreaand China in gaining the much needed economic assistance for one of the most impoverishedcountries - in the neighborhood of greatest economic success stories.On January first - following the controversial rocket launch, South Koreas largest news agency-Yonhap published a news report about the dramatic New Year‟s message of North Korean leaderKim Jong-un and that according to the agency marked the first such message verbally in 19 years.The message read by the young North Korean leader through radio and television exhibited his rarefound self-confidence in making such announcement.In the message broadcasted by the North Korean radio and television Kim called for the efforts toresolve the outstanding tension between the two countries by following the joint declarations andinitiate economic reform basically in agriculture and light industries.Kim further broadened his pristine gesture by shaking hands with diplomatic envoys andrepresentatives of international organizations that indicated his willingness in “ushering in the eraof great prosperity”.Furthermore, in a report published on December 28, the Korea-U.S. Institute at John‟s HopkinsUniversity said that in a given situation North Korea is in a position to test its nuclear weaponwithin two weeks. According to New York Times it was a “fundamental breakthrough” and a “resounding achievement”that showed the main elements of an intercontinental ballistic missile that to some experts can hitits precise target.The intent of the message of the mysterious country is yet to be analyzed, but the tenth memberof the world‟s Space Club might have prudently kicked off its new strategy to pacify the shockedand possibly strong reactions from other major powers including United Nations.John Cherian in an Indian fortnightly – Frontline, admits that the successful launch of a NorthKorean satellite on December 12 is being generally interpreted as a message by Pyongyang to theinternational community that it is determined to chart its own course despite the decades ofWestern sanctions and military threats.
  2. 2. TWO KOREAS AND TWO GREATEST PARADOXESJohn F. Kennedy - one of the most popular American Presidents once told his advisers: "Domesticpolicy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us."Kennedy is more relevant today than to his time. The world today has become more and moredangerous when compared to his presidency (1960-1963). To the chagrin of many foreign policyanalyst , East Asian countries for their foreign policy have undergone a much precarious conflictsituation as defined by Kennedy. The nature of relations among them - China, Koreas and Japan -the world‟s second, third and 12th largest economies as well as the major global military powers,have imparted a common message that the strategic flashpoints discernible in the region may easilyturn into a global nightmares.Noted American writer and political analyst- Phyllis Schlafly, says that the successful launching ofNorth Korean three-stage rocket that can deliver a payload in orbit around the globe and if NorthKorea explodes a single nuclear weapon a hundred miles above the United States, it “ could createelectromagnetic pulse effects, thereby bringing our entire economy to a standstill”. As a result ofthis, United States for many months will have to live without electricity, communication system,transportation, banking facility and almost all critical infrastructure systems will fail.She further mentions that it would be “like a return to the 18th century. But we no longer have theagrarian society that supported Americans in those olden days because we now import the majorityof our food”. With its ballistic missiles when combined with nuclear or chemical weapons, any enemycountry without an air force or military can project power outside of its borders and threaten theUnited States, Schlafly admits. Evidently when North Korea has gained such ability against UnitedStates that is 10,277 kilometers away, the impact of such explosion in South Korea and Japan isbeyond imagination.Robert M. Gates in January 2011, when visiting Beijing as a secretary of defense and speaking toreporters had said that North Korea was "becoming a direct threat to the United States within thenext five years”.Henry Kissinger says that the international order of Asia resembles the nineteenth century Europeand one such example is Korea that “has been a focal point of Asian crisis for the last hundredyears”. Although Korean peninsula lies within the geo-strategic orbit of China, the nature of tworival political and economic systems pursued by Koreas and their strategic dependence upon Chinaand United States for their ultimate survival have turned the peninsula one of the most criticalstrategic hotspots of our time.The North and South Koreas: officially known as Democratic People‟s Republic of Korea (DPRK) andRepublic of Korea (ROK) – one is among the most impoverished country of the world and the otherhas the reputation of becoming an economic powerhouse of the world and a vibrant democracy aswell. Both these countries have taught the world is that how leadership and policy matters when itmeans total deprivation of the people as well as their pride and prosperity. Moreover, bothcountries in inheritance to the cold war situation are living with much troubled relationship andapparently are prepared to meet any untoward challenges bred out of their two antagonistic socio-political and economic way of life.
  3. 3. And this in turn has been a constant source of anxiety to both countries. Simultaneously, theNorth‟s relation with China and South‟s relations with United States have given the nature ofrelationship between North and South Korea a critical global dimension.These days few countries in world can be compared with South Korea – clearly for its amazingeconomic success and a powerful democracy. As a highly industrious and productive peoplecommitted to democratic ideals - South Koreans have achieved these two greatest miracles within ashort span of time. Mainly it was possible for their visionary leaders and their great love anddevotion to their country. But unfortunately the North Korean people were not fortunate to havethe such leaders and have been living under the dire level of deprivation that is beyond imaginationto many people in the world.SUCCESS AND FAILURES OF COUNTRIES DEPEND UPON THE QUALITY OF THEIRLEADERSHIPSir Arthur Lewis, the father of development economist when was at Princeton University, was askeda pertinent question by one of his promising student - „why do some developing countries growfaster than others?‟ Professor Lewis, a 1979 Noble Laureate responded that two things are mainlyresponsible for this. The first is the great leadership, and the second- the good policies. Whenthere are great leaders and good policies rapid growth follows.Countries are great not for their size of the geography, population, economy army or weaponry, butfor the vision of their leadership, their capacity and courage in tapping the resources available andmaking the best possible use of opportunities available to them.South Korea, indubitably has confirmed what Sir Arthur Lewis said. When Park Chung -hee tookreins of the government through a military coup in 1961, the country was in ruins. That time it wasone of the poorest countries in the world – with per capita income just around US $87. And when hewas assassinated in 1989 it had reached US $4,830 and now it is above US$ 31,000. But even themost liberal estimate North Korean per capita income accounts below US $ 1000.Indeed Park ruled his country with firm hand – with a dictatorial stance. But there are few leaders– compared to Park who is truer to the cause of their people and the nation. Among the crowd of somany inattentive and unaccountable so called democracies of that time, he had proved himself asone of the most attentive and reputed leader, who if had exhibited some sort of weakness and ifinstability was further allowed to continue in his country, there was every possibility that SouthKorea would have collapsed and would have inevitably fallen under the control of North Korea it asin South Vietnam fell down in 70s.Eminent philosopher, physicist and noble laureate Ilya Prigogine has said “we cannot predict future,but we can prepare it “. In other word great leaders with unlimited courage and will power createfuture with their own hands. Proving himself true to Prigogine, Park reinvented his country – from apoor crumbling state to an Asian tiger within a period of 18 years. It was a miracle in world‟seconomic history. And the great Korean people pursuing his path to prosperity have invented one ofthe most powerful democracies in the world – on the economic foundation created by Park.
  4. 4. When South Korea was created many in United States and United Nations considered it as animpossible country to survive when compared to North. North Korea then was in a far betterposition for its strong industrial infrastructure, possession of heavy industries and abundance ofnatural resources – mainly iron, coal, copper, lead, uranium and manganese – that accounted about 90percent of Korean peninsula. Similar was the case with hydroelectricity and forest resources.However, South Korea was creeping mainly with its agrarian economy without any natural resourcesto start with. It was a country ruined by war, shattered by partition and devastated by people‟sanger and deep despair. The North somehow was rallied under the leadership of Kim IL Sung – formore than a decade. The North had far more stronger military and advanced weapons whencompared to South. Moreover, South Korea was reeling under weak, instable and batteredleadership and had Park not intervened many anticipated it would have collapsed.Bad leaders and bad policies cause poverty and famines in their countries. Noble LaureateAmartya Sen, in his path breaking study on “Poverty and Famine – An Essay on Entitlement andDeprivation” (1981) and another book written with Jean Drèze on “Hunger and Public Action”(1989) has made a detailed account on the famines of Bengal, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and otherSahel region countries and have concluded that famines, hunger and poverty are not the resultof shortage of food supply or its availability, but for the inability of person to acquire food andother commodities within the prevailing economic, social and legal arrangement denying peopleentitlements and ownership rights.Dr. Sen., in his acclaimed work “Development as Freedom” in more unequivocal terms, hasmentioned that there is connection between poverty, famines and nature of government. Famineshave never killed rulers and ruling elites, neither are they ever accountable for that. But whenthere is freedom, democracy and independent press, rulers are penalized for such catastrophes.So are famines like situations effectively prevented.Therefore, the main contributing factors that cause poverty and other human deprivation arethe kind of leaderships and the kind of economy whether it is in North Korea, Ethiopia, Somaliaor Nepal. What else could be expected from the kind of autocracies that spends more moneyon the arms , ammunitions followed by most expensive missiles and nuclear programs with oneof the largest standing army in the world - under the policy of „military first‟ . An autocraticregime raises such a huge army not to protect people but to protect the rulers and their oddyearning as in case of North Korea.MESSAGES OF PARK GEUN- HYE’E ELECTION IN SOUTH KOREANewly elected President of South Korea Park Geun – hye, during her election campaign had vowed toimprove the relations with North, hold a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and look forways to make huge economic investments across the 38th parallel to build trust and gain long termpeace - that ultimately would make the unification of Korean people possible in the long run -although bleak at the time being.
  5. 5. And Kim Jong-un in his new year‟s message and with follow up media highlights signaled Park that heis receptive to her mission that she announced during her election campaign, however he had defiedthe South Korean and world community‟s pleas for rocket launch.When Korean people elected Park Geun – hye as their new president – they conferred four messagesat the same time. One – they love Park Chung-hee - one of the greatest leaders of the last centurywho within a period of 18 years transformed his country from rags to riches – amazingly unparallelachievement in human history till that time. Two, they love their democracy – one of the mostpowerful in the world. The third message they imparted was that they wanted United Statescontinue to play major strategic role in the region. And the fourth was that they supported ParkGeun – hye to initiate some solid ground work for the unification of Korea – that wouldcomparatively be easier to her - for the strong support base she enjoyed in the establishment andamong general public due to the resounding economic success that senior Park ensured for theircountry.Similarly, when South Korean people in an election held in last December elected his daughter - ParkGeun-hye as the new president of their country - they not only demonstrated their high regard forfather Park, they have also exhibited high regards for the patriotic character of daughter Parkthat was first learnt with her spontaneous utterance when she heard the murder of her father in1979. On October 26 of that year, when she was informed about the assassination of the incumbentPresident – Park Chung-hee by his own intelligence Chief, the first question she asked was – „was theborder with North Korea safe‟ ? She stood similarly bold when in August 1974 her mother was killedby a North Korean agent when an attempt was made on her father. Later again on 20 May 2006,when Park Geun-hye herself was attacked in Seoul by an assailant she suffered one-to-threecentimeters deep cuts to her face from ear to jaw that required 60 stitches. And her firstremarks after the attack was, "I am all right. Dont overreact ".Contrary to the highly developed South, North Korea is living with the greatest paradoxes of ourtime –a nuclear powered nation with the largest standing army in one of the most poverty riddenand a kind of famine infested countries - with millions without food and other basic amenities oflife with the most dismal 0.9 percent growth rate. And if South Korea finds ways to share some ofits great fortune with its less fortunate brethren in the North and in return buys peace and in thelong run unification of the Korean people, it would greatly contribute peace in part of Asia wheremajor global powers like United States, China, Japan and Russia have claimed greater stakes.KOREAN PENINSULA: STRATEGIC KEY IN ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT GEO-STRATEGIC REGION OF THE WORLDAt the end of World War II, when Moscow and Washington failed to agree on the future of thepeninsula - formerly occupied by Japan; Korea was split in to two parts and two separate countrieswith different socio- political system were established.Following the end of three years long Korean War on July 27, 1953 after the military commandersof North Korea, the Chinese Peoples‟ Volunteers and the United Nations Command entered into anarmistice agreement at Panmunjom; a 2.5-mile-wide buffer zone known as the demilitarized zone(DMZ) was created across the thirty-eighth parallel.
  6. 6. Korean peninsula has a great strategic significance as it is shared by major economic and militarypowers of the North East and South East Asian Geo-strategic Region - the part of greater Asia– Pacific Rim, bordering continental powers like China and Russia and lying between Korean Bay-Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan. All those make it a „grand geopolitical centre‟ of the world.The turbulent relations between two Koreas reached at lowest ebb in March 2010 when NorthKorea torpedoed a South Korean navy ship and killed some five dozen crew members. In May 2011,North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire after the North shelled an island near theirdisputed sea border, killing at least two South Korean marines, setting dozens of buildings ablazeand sending civilians fleeing for shelter.In November 2009 too, two navies fought a brief gun battle that left one North Korean sailor deadand three others wounded. A North Korean ship was left in flames.In August 2011 AFP reported that the North Korea had sent some secret agents to assassinate itsdefense minister Kim Kwan-Jin.But after years of tensed relations North Korea now seems intending to improve its relationswith the South. Focused specially on the new South Korean president‟s policy of building trustwith the North, the North Korean leader has given the impression that it is reciprocating theSouth‟s overtures.Similarly, China - the only country having good ties with North Korea has been putting adequatepressures to improve its strained relations with the United States and South Korea.If tension is eased in Korean peninsula and South Korean investments in North Korea are increasedit could help North Korea go stabilized and that would obviously help China achieve its aim ofkeeping South Korean and American forces out of its first chain of geo-strategic border region.And China without any underestimation knows the hard fact that unless North Korea categoricallyabandons its nuclear weapons ambition; it would give United States additional impetus to deploymore anti missiles facilities to the region facing North Korean and Chinese nuclear arsenals.When crisis erupts in Korea Russia will be similarly threatened. Robert Kagan – the noted foreignpolicy expert of USA, in his acclaimed book – The Return of History and the End of Dreams, hasstated that “if Russia was where History most dramatically ended two decades ago. Today it iswhere history has most dramatically returned”. And according to Kagan Russia ranks among thestrongest power of the world - its economy growing by 7 percent from 2003 is showing aremarkable improvement.And if normalcy returns in Korea and East Asia, Russia would make a dramatic return as a fuelsupplier to world‟s highly developed economies of South Korea and Japan. During the North KoreanPresident Kim Jong IL‟s visit to Moscow in August 2011, the first since 2002, both presidentsdiscussed about how to promote their mutual economic and political interests.According to New York Times (August 21, 2011) for years, officials in Moscow and Seoul have beenurging North Korea to let the two countries build a pipeline through the North Korean territory to
  7. 7. carry Russian natural oil and gas to meet the rising demand in South Korea and even Japan bywhich North Korea can earn $500 million a year in transit fees.Likewise, the two Koreas and Russia have also been exploring the extension of Trans-SiberianRailway through the North into the South and construction of a high-voltage power lines to sellsurplus Russian electricity to North and South Koreas that would ultimately help Russia develop itssparsely populated Far Eastern region. Senior Russian and North Korean officials have agreed towork on such projects and enhance greater cooperation involving energy and railways among Russiaand two Korea.If Russia‟s huge oil and natural gas reserves find market in East Asia that will not only give Russiagreater power leverage, it will boost East Asian economy that resultantly, will enlarge regionalpeace and cooperation. This will also help China improve its relation with South Korea and Japangiving more rooms for bilateral trade.But before such mega projects on oil and gas pipelines are initiated; economic and securityrelated risks are to be analyzed and better trust building structural environment be createdamong the parties through long term treaties governing the smooth supply of oil and gas understronger international assurances. Eurasia Review January 8, 2013