Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kim Jong-il wants to be your friend . . .

The Marmot has an interesting post on North Korea's offer of 'friendship' with the United States. He cites an article via Reuters on this intriguing offer. Last Friday, the South's Unification Minister Chung Dong-young met Kim Jong-il in the North's capital, Pyongyang. Here's what Chung is said to have reported back to South Korean President Roh during a cabinet meeting:

1. That the North is ready to end its boycott of the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons if the U.S. shows it respect.

2. That the North will give up all of its nuclear missiles if it establishes diplomatic ties with the U.S. and the U.S. becomes an ally (literally, ubang, either "ally" or "friendly nation" as The Marmot notes).

These are actually two, quite different positions. The first reflects something that the North has been saying for the past two weeks. It's an offer to return to where we were one year ago, but conditional upon U.S. showing the North some 'respect.' This is Kim Jong-il as Rodney Dangerfield -- always in need of respect but never getting any. Or not enough. "Just a little bit more, please."

The second position is the far more intriguing one, for it says something new. Perhaps not entirely new. Recall that after visiting the North and meeting with Kim Jong-il in 2000, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung reported ("Defending the troops," Washington Times, June 28, 2000) that Kim Jong-il "showed understanding" and grasped the South's "viewpoint of the geopolitical situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula," namely, that the Americans were stationed to "keep stability" by preventing "Japan and China from engaging in efforts to gain hegemony in the region."

If Kim Jong-il was serious then and is serious now, then he shows realistic geopolitical understanding of the peninsula's difficult position. And he knows that the North's position is even more difficult, even -- in the Marmot's singular 'sports' metaphor -- painful:

"[T]he Chinese have his balls in a vice grip that they might eventually find it in their interests to use."

Concerning this allusion to Kim Jong-il's impaired golf game (now we really know why he played only one time), The Marmot links to a Selig Harrison article ("Getting Around Pyongyang's Hard-Liners," Washington Post, June 10, 2005) in which a couple of relevant points are made:

"It is particularly galling to North Korean leaders that the United States, oblivious to the sensitivity of Chinese-Korean relations throughout history, is attempting to apply pressure through China and to use it as a diplomatic intermediary. 'This is not the 19th century,' one North Korean official commented, an allusion to the servile posture of Korean monarchs toward China during the closing decades of the Yi dynasty, which provoked a strong nationalist reaction. The Kim regime consistently appeals to Korean national pride and has sought friendship with the United States in part as an offset to excessive dependence on its giant neighbor."

I've also thought that the U.S. reliance on China in this way has been a mistake because it confers legitimacy upon China's influence over North Korea. China has legitimate interests in what happens on the peninsula, but the U.S. should not be in the business of increasing China's power over North Korea.

So . . . it seems to me that that U.S. should sound Kim Jong-il out on this offer of 'friendship,' see if he's serious.

But don't expect too much friendship. Perhaps the North just wants to play the role of 'balancer' in Northeast Asia.


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