Monday, February 10, 2003

Korea? I think I read about that place somewhere

Dealing with North Korea and the on-going crisis continues to be featured in most international papers. Indeed, it would be impossible to keep up with all the coverage and opinions being recorded over this matter. I hope that I can at least cover a few of the basics here to give a holistic picture of what's going on.

If you don't support a regime you wouldn't give them food to enable them to hold onto power. However, if you don't give food aid you are responsible for the starvation of the masses and branded as using food for political means - a great big no-no. Afterall the developed world condemned Somalian warlords for using food to gain and maintain power. In Iraq the western world is being criticised and blamed for the death of countless victims because of sanctions that, although designed to weaken the power of Suddan, ultimately also bring death to the masses. And in Korea too the debate goes on as to whether or not to keep supplying food aid during the time of nuclear crisis. The great irony here being that South Korea, thanks to its protectionist agricultural market, has plenty to spare for its hungry neighbour. But of course, by offering the surplus to the North, SK would also be supporting the repressive regime governing the country. A sticky dilemma (weak pun intended).

This kind of food politics is a critical issue in poverty stricken countries such as the North. Political power can be harnessed through food and repression enforced more effectively through control of aid and food supply channels. The overtaking of which by aid agencies comes to threaten the ruling party and sovereignty of the nation. Such concerns of sovereignty in matters of food do not occur in developed countries but are major polticial concerns in the poorest of nations. (so I've read). This complicates the crisis between such disparate forces such as US & co and Iraq or NK. The US party has the ability to severely weaken countries through food politics but simultaneously has a moral duty to feed the poor extraneous to poltical concerns. A tricky matter when the two are inextricably linked.

But more specifically to matters in Korea. In US, Rumsfeld has repeated comments to the effect that the US can have a showdown with two countries at once which has done nothing to reduce tension. But then again, the US stance is to get the North to reduce the tension by backing down not for US to reduce tension. In the latest, bombers are on alert in Guam and there has been some build up in the Pacific of forces. The bottom section of the transcript linked above also pertains to comments regarding food aid and political maneuvering.

As the transcript also notes, a critical aspect of the stance toward NK is the alliance between US and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. China is not so keen to play a big role in this issue given its opposing interests in backing or at least tolerating the North and fostering its inchoate relations with US. Japan is getting a case of the heebiejeebies and threatening to deploy 'self-defense' forces if NK decides to fire a missle anywhere near or at Japan. And South Korea's recent spat of anti-US sentiment has prompted North Korea to try and divide the alliance even further. Russia also seems reluctant to back US too much and doesn't support the idea of a UN resolution.

In domestic politics in SK the big news is the scandal over the North-South Summit in 2000. On the sideline, the controversy surrounding this issue has also caused Kim Dae-jung to be labelled the 'lamest of lame ducks'. Predident-elect Roh will undoubtedly pursue the case as it doesn't affect him and makes him look open and reformist to see that the truth comes out. The greater issue though it the effect this case will have on the popularity of the 'Sunshine Policy', a cornerstone of Roh's election win. The revelation of such bribery should be the fatal blow to a policy which has now proven itself a failure. The Sunshine Policy has led to nothing. In North Korea, it seems that money alone talks. The checkbook diplomacy behind the summit led to advance in family reunions and the agreement to build road and rail links, not the Sunshine Policy. And in light of the nuclear crisis it would seem that the policies chances of doing anything remotely productive at this time are extremely slim.

And off the topic, it seems that Lee Hoi-Chang, who recently narrowly lost the SK presidential elections has taken a spot at the Hoover Insitutue located at Stanford University and Chung Moon-Jung who pulled out of the presidential elections in the run up has also taken a spot at Stanford, at the Institute of International Studies. This will surely boost the credentials of Korean studies at Stanford and therefore is excellent news for me as I am due to take my position as a graduate student at Stanford in September.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui