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Tuesday, June 7

China's lead in Six Party Talks: putting fox in charge of chicken coop

Pundita suspects that Beijing used their (US-conferred) leadership position in the Six Party Talks, while they lasted, to egg on Seoul's widening rift with Japan and the US. It wouldn't have taken much egging, to be sure. South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun has dredged up as much bad history as possible between Korea and Japan. In this, he surely took a page from Beijing's playbook: flummox the home opposition by stirring up national sentiment against a foreign scapegoat.

Not to be outdone, Japan decided that delicate six-way negotiations with the two Koreas about nuclear bombs was the perfect time to throw off their "masochistic" view of Japan's occupation of Korea and show a little pride about their role in bringing Korea out of the Middle Ages.

So here we are today, with President Roh threatening to start a diplomatic war with Japan; this, despite good business deals between the two countries and knowledge on both sides that North Korea's nuke program represents a security threat to both countries.

Meanwhile, tracking back to President Bush's entry into office in 2001, some Senate Republicans (and, I would guess, some Democrats) were upset with President Kim's (the South Korean Kim) Sunshine Policy and morbidly suspicious that the two Koreas were planning to gang up on the USA. This led Bush to call for a review of US policy toward North Korea, the policy he inherited from Clinton. The suspicions were fanned by the Pentagon's discovery of South Korea's Contingency Plan, which we'll arrive at in good time.

Then along came 9/11, the Axis of Evil speech, and eventually the interdiction of a ship bound for Libya, which turned up Pyongyang's role in the making of the Islamic Bomb.

Meanwhile, Chinese tourists from the northeast provinces were partying it up at a Hong Kong-owned casino hotel in North Korea. (Hat tip: Asia Cable . Pundita had no idea there was an official capitalist zone in North Korea until I read Todd Crowell's report.)

And, as Pundita reported in earlier posts, South Korean businessmen and Roh's government were throwing millions (USD) into building up North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Park, which only deepened suspicions about Roh among US congressionals suspicious about North-South ties.

Then came the Contingency Plan Flap, which actually got underway in 1999. (Hat tip: The Marmot.) Joon Ang Daily , dateline June 6:
A joint U.S.-South Korean military plan to respond to a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime has been revived two months after Seoul announced it wanted the proposal shelved.

Yoon Kwang-ung, the South Korean defense minister, and his U.S. counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, met in Singapore over the weekend and agreed to develop and upgrade the contingency program.

When the South Korean government announced in April it would bear full responsibility for responding to a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, U.S. government and military leaders were reportedly furious at the effort to exclude U.S. forces.

But on Saturday, Shin Hyeon-don, the spokesman at the Defense Ministry, said, "The two countries decided to promote a measure that would complement and advance Plan 5029 according to related regulations and procedures.

"Strategic orders will be delivered to the Korea-U.S. Military Committee as soon as possible, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the two countries and the U.S.-South Korea Combined Forces Commander will develop the plan." ...

The contingency plan caused a diplomatic rift between Seoul and Washington. Prepared in 1999, it was meant to deal with a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime and the mass defection of North Korean residents to South Korea.

In 2003, South Korea and the United States had agreed to transform the conceptual plan into an operational one by the end of this year.

Seoul's complaint in April was that a joint plan would infringe upon the sovereignty of Korea, and discussions were suspended.

But Mr. Yoon and Mr. Rumsfeld met in Singapore and reached an agreement to resume developing the plan. ...
Here the reader might reasonably ask, 'Why didn't Washington resolve the flap before they prodded Seoul into Six Party Talks?' I hazard the operational phrase is "Don't be reasonable" while pondering Washington's handling of the North Korea situation.

As coincidence would have it, something akin to agreement on Plan 5029 was reached within less than a week of President Roh's June 10 arrival at the White House for a 'working meeting' with President Bush.

More coincidence: Pundita mentioned just the other day to her readers that what this country needed was a brass tacks plan for reunification of the two Koreas. Lo and behold, it seems the DoD had the same idea. Just today the RAND Corporation released such a report, commissioned by the DoD!

Really, President Roh must announce more often that he intends to visit the White House for a working meeting! Think how far along things might have been if he had dropped by, say, once a month during the past year!

We have The Marmot to thank for news of the report and for a link to a downloadable version of the report. The report is the Must Read of the week as we prepare for Roh's visit to Washington on Friday.

But wait; there's another piece of the puzzle for Americans trying to make sense out of US policy toward North Korea and losing sleep over who is going to foot the bill, if North Korea's looming food crisis requires massive amounts of food aid:

Incheon (that's a city in South Korea for those who aren't up on the Korean War) has promised on Seoul's behalf to finish construction of the Ryugyong Hotel in beautiful downtown Pyongyang!

If you don't see the connection with footing a food aid bill and you've never heard of the Ryugyong Hotel--officially the hotel does not exist and officially Incheon's mayor never promised to finish constructing it. But the connection is that the cost of the building project will be about $1 billion. If you ask whether the girders will be gold-plated--the history of the Ryugyong Hotel, as with everything about Kim Jong U's tenure in office, is a very weird story.

(American readers: Please don't rush off at this point to Pat Buchanan's website to ask where you can sign up for your official Isolationist Policy badge. We can get through this.)

The good news is that if South Korea is even thinking about footing the bill for the Ryugyong that must mean they wouldn't mind picking up the tab for food aid to North Korea. Indeed, Roh has already stated a willingness to chip in with food aid but Seoul is waiting for a signal from Washington. We can assume this is another item for the working meeting on Friday.

In the meantime, we can buckle down to learning the history of the Ryugyong and catch up on the news about the Incheon mayor's officially nonexistent promise to finish an officially nonexistent hotel. For this, we turn to The Marmot again and The Shape of Days (don't miss his gorgeous pictures of the bat-like Ryugyong!) with a grateful nod to Simon World for introducing us to the blasted Ryugyong story (June 6 Linklets).

Once we've boned up on Plan 5029, the RAND report, the batty Ryugyong, and the rumble between Seoul and Tokyo, we'll be in a better position to determine whether inviting China and Japan into talks that involve the two Koreas was a good idea without Washington first getting on the same page with South Korea.

To be fair, China did not make the mess that the Six Party Talks represent and indeed, China gave good advice years ago to Kim Jong-il's regime (see Todd's story on the capitalist zone), which he pretty much ignored. But Pundita thinks China has made hay from the mess.

Given that things are heating up with regard to US-North Korea relations, Pundita will be closely following The Marmot's Hole and Simon World for news on the Koreas because those blogs are clearly a great source for important news on the Koreas. So, I am adding their blog links to the Pundita sidebar.

3:00 PM UPDATE

"Pundita! Look what I just pulled from Google News! Just look at these headlines!

Washington Post: U.S.: N. Korea Committed to Weapons Talks

Bloomberg: U.S. Says N. Korea Gave No Signs It's Ready to Restart Talks

The articles say pretty much the same thing so how can two headlines mean two entirely different things?? Are the North Koreans going to continue with the talks, or what? I can't take much more of this [expletetive deleted]!
STILL Sleepless in St. Louis"

Dear Still Sleepless:

All right, calm down; Pundita has consulted with Ouija to learn the true meaning of the back channel message. Ready?

HA HA BEIJING YOU THINK YOU SUCH BIG BOSS TEE HEE SEOUL YOU THINK YOU SOME SMART HO HO TOKYO YOU HAVE ROCK SALT FOR BRAIN WE CAN MAKE DEAL WITH WASHINGTON ON OUR OWN ANY TIME WE WANT

Now let's try for a polite translation: Presidents Bush and Roh should immediately and with full transparency communicate to Pyongyang the results of their working meeting on Friday.

Now please go take a nap.
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