The Korean Missile Gap
The missiles that North Korea fired over and into the Sea of Japan on July 4 were aimed at the political unity of the international community, according to various observers in the South Korean online media.
The question is whether the missiles will drive a wedge between the United States and Japan on the one hand, and China and South Korea on the other.
The differences between the countries' responses are already evident.
Japan barred North Korean ships from its ports and North Korean travelers from its airports. Two small street demonstrations against North Korea took place in Japan within 24 hours of the North Korean tests. Japan's Asahi Shimbum saw the missile tests as "a reckless and dangerous new level" of brinksmanship and supported U.S. efforts to call North Korea to account.
Spokesmen in Beijing and Seoul sounded milder. A Chinese government spokesman said Beijing was "seriously concerned."
In South Korea, a government spokesman yesterday urged the country's allies to respond to the missile tests in a "cool headed manner," according to Yonhap news agency. That sounds much like the country's recent line on Pyongyang: Last month, South Korea downplayed warnings that the North might test a missile (See my June 20 post, "South Korea: What Me Worry?").
The Joong Ang Daily in Seoul says North Korea may still wind up the "big winner," saying the consensus of South Korean analysts is "that the flood of threats from other countries to impose sanctions are hollow; the country [North Korea] has been essentially cut off from the rest of the world for decades."
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "gambled that Beijing and Seoul will not change their stances toward the North" as a result of the missile test, "and it's likely that his gamble will pay off," said Kim Tae-hyo, a political scientist. Kim doubted that China will agree to any sanctions the United States or Japan might propose.
"There is not much that the United States and Japan can do diplomatically or militarily," said another analyst interviewed by the Joong Ang Daily.
Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told the Korea Times that he saw the missile tests as a "naked attempt" to get direct talks with Washington. Pyonyang's message, he said, is "they can do whatever they want if Washington continues evading direct talks." The Korea Times declared, "Launch sends blunt message to America."
Some South Korean observers are saying it's time for Seoul to change its line on the North.
The government of President Roh Myun-Moon "has no choice but to fundamentally revaluate its North Korean policy," according to the editors of the Korea Times. Seoul should "consult closely with the U.S. and Japan for relevant countermeasures, including the level of sanctions to be slapped on the North for the launchings."
Chosun Ilbo daily said that if the government "refuses to wake up from its daydream of playing the mediator between Washington and Pyongyang while continuing to provide aid to the North, the missile crisis will escalate and the country's security be jeopardized further. That way lies a dissolution of the Korea-U.S alliance and Korea's status as an international orphan."
Is that message sinking in? Maybe not. Lee Jong-seok, the cabinet minister in charge of reunification efforts, hinted that the South Korean economic ties to the North would not suffer. He said the government would continue supporting an inter-Korean industrial complex in the city of Kaesgong on the grounds the project was initiated by a private company.
Peaceful engagement may remain the preferred approach in the South. "South Korea has invested a lot in its -- slow-motion reunification -- efforts with the North, though more in the currency of hope and national pride than in concrete financial assistance," John Feffer, a left-leaning U.S. security analyst, wrote in OhMyNews, a South Korean "citizen journalism" site.
"Seoul's reaction to the launch preparations has been cautious to the point of denial," he writes, while "South Korean civil movement continue to stress the value of diplomacy and sheer idiocy of military confrontation."
Feffer thinks the missile test has failed to split Japan and the United States.
"Pyongyang has long profited from driving wedges between its adversaries," Feffer wrote. "This potential missile launch has appeared to do the opposite. In Japan, support for missile defense and the North Korea-bashing prime minister hopeful Shinzo Abe has spiked."
As the United States and Japan seek U.N. Security Council action against North Korea, South Korea faces a basic question. Which side are you on?
By Jefferson Morley |
July 6, 2006; 8:42 AM ET
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