Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Time to reach out across the Korean Peninsula’s divide

Experts on North Korea are calling for dialogue and even limited engagement with Pyongyang, and say that China must play a role in reducing tensions, while Switzerland has offered to mediate

By Justin McCurry  /  The Guardian, in the Korean DMZ

Attempts to break the cycle of pressure, concessions and North Korean violations in its nuclear and missile programs would only work if China, the US and South Korea could agree on their approach, the spokeswoman said.

“They have to start speaking with one voice and not give North Korea the leeway it’s had up until now to turn to China for help. It must be made to believe that it can’t rely on China any more,” she said.

“But my concern is that the US won’t go that far. It has a lot on its plate elsewhere and only cares about North Korea when it is threatened. But it has to come around to this new, united approach,” she said.

Washington may also have to drop its demand that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear program.

“It now seems impossible that the North will stop building nuclear weapons, so it might be that the US and other countries will have to talk non-proliferation rather than abandonment,” said Shin Jong-dae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

Observers are waiting to see how new South Korean President Park Geun-hye will turn her desire for “trustpolitik” with the North into action. A spokeswoman for Park said the administration recognized that past attempts to denuclearize the North had been unsuccessful. However, possible confidence-building steps, such as the resumption of aid and cross-border dialogue, could still be some way off.

“We have no illusions that trust is something that can be built overnight,” the spokeswoman said.

“It is time for the international community to fashion a truly united front to press North Korea to denuclearize. North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric is by no means helpful to building an environment for restarting dialogue. Nor do we believe this is the right time to consider such high-level talks,” she said.

However, while tensions on the peninsula have eased in recent days, the DMZ is a reminder of how terrifying a cross-border conflict would be. Experts believe about 60 percent of North Korea’s military assets, including 600,000 troops, are positioned on or near the border, the most heavily fortified in the world. Its artillery units, hidden among the mountains separating the two Koreas, could quickly destroy Seoul, just 59.5km away.

In an article for the Foreign Policy Web site last month, North Korea experts Victor Cha and David Kang said the North could unleash 500,000 rounds of artillery on the South Korean capital in the first hour of a conflict. The promise of mutually assured destruction has prevented war, but it has done nothing to stop the North from developing its nuclear program and potentially holding the region, and the rest of the world, to ransom.

The US policy of “strategic patience” — sanctions coupled with displays of military power — has failed, according to Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul.

“The US doesn’t have a policy on North Korea, only a fruitless cycle of sanctions and dialogue,” he said. “And meanwhile the North’s weapons capacity has grown much stronger.”

At the DMZ “truce village” of Panmunjom last weekend, forces from both sides performed a daily ritual stretching back decades. North Korean border guards peered through binoculars into the South, where soldiers who have been selected for border duty because of their imposing stature stared back through mirrored shades, perfectly still in a taekwondo pose.

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