North Korea’s proposal for bilateral peace talks spurred a skeptical response from the U.S., days after the totalitarian regime failed to follow through on an approach to South Korea for discussions over a shut factory park.
With North Korea escalating its threats to test a ballistic missile, South Korean President Park Geun Hye was conferring with Bill Gates on another pressing matter. Seated across from Microsoft Corp.’s billionaire co- founder on April 22 at a formal dining table in the Blue House, her official residence, Park picked the tech mogul’s brain about how to nurture entrepreneurs to keep the world’s 15th-largest economy humming.
Andrei Lankov, an associate professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, comments about North Korea, a month after the announcement of the death of Kim Jong Il. He spoke in a Bloomberg Television interview.
North Korea lobbed artillery shells at a South Korean island near the disputed border between the two countries, killing two soldiers and setting houses ablaze in the worst attack on its neighbor in at least eight months.
From time to time, newspapers shower readers with predictions of a looming mass starvation in North Korea, usually in springtime. In March 2011, the New York Times wrote: “North Korea: 6 Million Are Hungry.” One year earlier, in March 2010, the Times of London warned: “Catastrophe in North Korea; China must pressure Pyongyang to allow food aid to millions threatened by famine.” In March 2009, a Washington Post headline read: “At the Heart of North Korea’s Troubles, an Intractable Hunger Crisis.”
Let’s start with the bad news: The North Korean problem has no simple or quick solution. The North’s weapons-grade plutonium and nuclear devices have already been manufactured, and are now safely hidden in underground facilities. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, remains unwilling to support a truly rigorous (read: efficient) sanctions regime. More narrow financial sanctions that target the money used to reward regime insiders with perks, like bottles of Hennessy cognac and Mercedes cars, won’t have much impact. Most of the North Korean elite believe that regime stability is a basic condition for their survival. No doubt, they would be willing to put up with locally produced liquor and used Toyotas if the alternative was being strung from the lampposts.
To an outside observer, the behavior of the North Korean leadership often appears short- sighted and irrational. There seems to be a tested and easy way out of their predicament -- the path of Chinese-style economic reforms. While such gradual capitalist reforms might be good for the country, however, they would be far too dangerous for the current North Korean elite. As a consequence, they’re unlikely to be implemented anytime soon.
South Korea said a live-firing drill that drew threats of retaliation from North Korea was completed without incident, after the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on steps to ease tension on the peninsula.