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Home > East Asia > 

Coddling North Korea Is dangerous
Paul Lin
8/21/2006

On July 5, North Korea launched a series of seven missiles, all of which fell into the Sea of Japan. Of these, one was a long-range weapon capable of reaching the U.S.

On the surface, the launch was a direct provocation to the U.S., with North Korea trying to get its adversary to lift economic sanctions. However, as Japan was the main target of the launch, it felt most deeply the threat that Pyong-yang poses, and therefore had the strongest reaction.

This escalation of aggression is a result of a long history of complacency by China and South Korea. Since the Korean War in the 1950s, China has continually given North Korea its strongest political, economic and military support.

The rise of Korean nationalism in recent years has also caused South Koreans to forget the lessons taught them by the Korean War. They have disregarded the value of democracy, choosing instead to embrace the world's most brutal dictatorship. This has regrettably led to anti-US and anti-Japanese sentiment, as they have sold off all the achievements of the democracy movement. It is their complacency that has allowed North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to push his county into deeper misery and turmoil, even as the great tide of democracy sweeps the rest of the world.

According to media reports, the missiles were launched at 3:32am. At 4 a.m., Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was woken with the news, at 5 a.m. he called a Cabinet meeting to plan a response and at 7:30am he led a meeting of his country's security council. But even though Seoul is on the front lines, the government waited until 11am to call a meeting to discuss the launch, after having been alerted at 5am. It appears that Seoul simply didn't think this was an emergency.

Japan reacted to the launch by adopting several sanctions against Pyongyang, as well as proposing a resolution at the UN calling for sanctions on North Korea. However, the proposal was rejected by China and Russia, and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun accused Japan of making a big deal out of nothing. This has only emboldened North Korea, which pledged further missile tests and to adopt an even harder line in dealing with Japan.

However, while China may have opposed sanctions in the UN, Japanese and South Korean media reports have indicated that the trucks that used to continually cross the Yalu River with relief aid from China to North Korea have suddenly vanished. It seems that China may have its own kind of sanctions after all.

The question is, if those Chinese trucks hadn't been supplying North Korea in the first place, would Pyongyang have had the ability to expand its army and make war preparations? More im-portantly, the sanctions imposed to get North Korea to admit wrongdoing have been turned into nothing more than a farce.

Compared with North Korea's belligerence, China's attitude toward Japan has been quite soft. Following Chinese President Hu Jin-tao's announcement last month that he would be willing to visit Japan, Chinese officials told the Japanese media at the beginning of this month that they had established a small organization aimed at improving bilateral relations at the start of the year.

Before July 7, China got even more "cuddly." Not only did it prohibit anti-Japanese demonstrations, but when a private Chinese boat was intercepted by the Japanese navy while inspecting the potential for tourism near the Diaoyutais, Beijing quickly told Tokyo that it hadn't known about the activity beforehand, and that if boats would be entering the disputed area in the future, they would inform Japan beforehand. This seems to suggest that China may not persist in claiming sovereignty over the Diaoyutais.

However, China handles its friendship with North Korea completely differently, preferring to portray the two countries as "revolutionary partners." Regardless of whether China tries to threaten or entice Japan, Tokyo should speed its military preparations to resist these two communist countries.

As for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, the fact that he is selling the idea of "no independence, no resorting to war" rather than the more basic "no unification, no independence," suggests that he is pandering to Chinese sensibilities. If Ma values unification more than democracy and freedom, then he is just a "yes man" for Roh.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in Taipei.

Translated by Marc Langer

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