A North Korean Trio’s Quick Spurt down South
Alexander VORONTSOV | 19.11.2014 | OPINION

A North Korean Trio’s Quick Spurt down South

The US and its allies have added systematic attacks on North Korea’s human-rights record to their traditional arsenal of tactics for exerting pressure on that country. These attacks have been launched before, but lately they have become more extensive than ever, and the «human-rights offensive» itself now looks like a carefully designed, long-term strategy. The first element in this strategy was the North Korean Human Rights Act passed by the US Congress - yet another example of American lawmakers interfering in the internal affairs of another state. 

Then a certain Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, based in the US, published a its «Report on Human Rights in North Korea», which urges the UN Security Council to officially address this issue. It also recommends that the UN General Assembly pass a corresponding resolution, that a discussion of human rights in North Korea be brought before the European Parliament, and that the matter then be referred to the International Court of Human Rights in the Hague, in order to convince the international community that North Korea is an «evil regime with no place in the modern world», «a land of darkness, where there are no human rights,» and that correspondingly punitive measures should be taken.

This truly seems like the run-up to an international punitive operation against the North Korean state.

Regarding the issue it's crucially important that China’s representative on the UN Security Council has already made it clear that putting human rights for North Korea on the agenda of the Security Council is a nonstarter. Pyongyang, in turn, has made a number of strong statements in response to Washington’s actions. 

An English-language statement («DPRK Will Mercilessly Shatter U.S. and Its Followers’ ‘Human Rights’ Campaign») issued by the North Korean National Defense Commission on Oct. 25, 2014, states in part:

«First, Now that the U.S. ‘human rights’ offensive against the DPRK has reached an extreme phase, the DPRK formally notifies the U.S. that the DPRK will settle accounts with those related to the offensive without the slightest clemency and by every possible means and methods generation after generation. 

«Second, Now that the U.S. anti-DPRK ‘human rights’ campaign is leading to a vicious plot to bring down the dignified social system in the DPRK, it declares its new tough counter-action of its own style to frustrate the campaign of the U.S. and its allied forces. 

«Third, The army and people of the DPRK call upon the world to thoroughly shatter the sinister cooperation for aggression sought by the U.S. and its followers under the pretext of the ‘human rights issue’ through anti-U.S. cooperation based on justice and truth.» (From a statement by the North Korean National Defense Commission) 

Despite this deterioration in the state of affairs, Pyongyang has continued to seek out new approaches to starting a dialog with the South. And the northerners have once again shown their ability to do things in a novel way. 

The first such step, a surprise to most observers, was when a large delegation of North Korean athletes arrived at the international Asian Games in the South Korean city of Incheon (Sept. 19 - Oct. 4, 2014), where they gave an impressive performance. The North Korean competitors won 36 medals - 11 of them gold - and they set four world records. North Korea’s women’s soccer team took first place at the Asian Games, while the men came in second, losing to South Korea in overtime in the final.

However, the biggest bombshell was still to come. On Oct. 3, politicians and experts were stunned when North Korea’s highest officials (second to Kim Jong-un) arrived in the South Korean city of Incheon for the closing ceremony of the international Asian Games. They were: Hwang Pyong-so, the first deputy chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and head of the military’s General Political Bureau; Choe Ryong-hae, a secretary in the Communist Party’s Central Committee; and Kim Yang-gon, a Communist Party secretary responsible for relations with South Korea. All three arrived in Incheon on Kim Jong-un’s private plane and accompanied by his personal guard. This was more than just a ceremonial visit - it was an extraordinary mission, personally authorized by Kim Jong-un. 

Given the current situation, it would obviously be difficult to imagine a clearer sign of Pyongyang’s willingness to resume a substantive inter-Korean dialog. The value of this gesture is even more obvious because shortly before the sensational appearance of the North Korean trio in Incheon, Seoul had proposed that high-level talks be resumed. That happened on Aug. 11, 2014, the day before scheduled US-South Korean military maneuvers, but Seoul understood that the North’s answer could only come after these maneuvers had ended. 

The «North Korean trio’s quick spurt» down South, while raising hopes, confronted Seoul with a number of issues, including, according to some observers, the question of a possible inter-Korean summit. Everyone who follows the twists and turns on the Korean Peninsula was waiting with bated breath to see if perhaps a serious positive shift, if not a breakthrough, would occur in inter-Korean relations.

Unfortunately, this initiative to bring the two Korean states closer together has run into resistance from those who are committed to old and unproductive political games. 

The National Defense Commission of the DPRK felt compelled to remind Seoul that it would not be possible to hold the high-level meetings that had been scheduled for Oct. 29 2014, in view of the fact that even on the eve of this important and previously arranged meeting, balloons stuffed with anti-Pyongyang propaganda continued to be released from the South to be blown into the North.

This is not a new problem. For several years now, beginning with the Lee Myung-bak administration in Seoul, the practice of «firing» propaganda balloons into North Korea has become a regular event. A few specific NGOs are behind this, and although not numerous, they are quite active and vociferous. Pyongyang’s numerous protests and warnings to the Republic of Korea (ROK) are ignored under the pretext that the ROK is a democratic state, and a democracy cannot suppress the actions of nongovernmental organizations. But the South Korean democracy seems indifferent to the rights of its own citizens living on the North Korean border (for example, in the South Korean city of Paju), where the local residents adamantly protest the actions of anti-North Korean groups that use their town as a launching pad for the balloons. 

What conclusions can be drawn from all this? 

Until Washington turns away from a paradigm based on regime change in the DPRK as soon as possible and at any cost, the door leading toward an improved relationship between the two Koreas will quickly begin to close. 

And yet it is the Koreans themselves who will have the last word in determining the fate of their divided people. This North Korean trio’s quick spurt down South must lead to some consequences.

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