Mon, 13 Jun 1994

Who understands Kim?

In the matter of North Korea against the world, China stands alone. All permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- except for China -- are working hard to impose economic sanctions on North Korea, which is under pressure to prove that it is not secretly making nuclear bombs.

Pyongyang, under the leadership of the world's most feared despot Kim Il Sung, has aggressively rejected any request to open up its nuclear reactor to inspection by experts of the Vienna- based International Atomic Energy Agency, without giving any palatable reason.

In this situation, the rest of the world has tried to predict what Kim would try to parlay if he were to acquire a nuclear arsenal. For the moment, there is no nation which believes that the 82 year-old dictator, who has ruled the self-isolated Stalinist regime since the end of the World War II, will invade South Korea as he did in 1950. Most people believe that the aging tyrant has come to realize that the world situation very much different now than it was 45 years ago. Also, because of its tremendous economic progress, South Korea will now be able to gather more nations to its side in case Kim makes another try at expansion.

Many believe that North Korea is now turning its expertise to produce nuclear weapons. In so doing, Kim may think this to be the best legacy he can leave his nation, which will not only remain isolated by also surrounded by hostile neighboring powers after his demise. If this is true, we wonder if Kim might not be doing his people a bigger favor by letting them come out of their cocoon, joining the world community and overhauling their economy.

Unfortunately, nobody has the power to predict what Kim is thinking, not even the leaders in Beijing who are his only friends and significant trading partners. The world has long accepted that Kim's only strength is his power to remain unpredictable and the ability to nag other nations, especially South Korea, the United States and Japan.

We now are quite amazed to hear that Beijing has shown almost the same reason as Pyongyang in rejecting the idea of imposing economic sanctions. The only difference lies in the justification for this rejection.

While the latter has said it would take such a measure as an act of war, the former has claimed it believed that applying sanctions would not be effective because North Korea has already been isolated from the rest of the world. This is what separates Beijing from other world capitals who believe that the sanctions would at least make North Korea try to learn to respect other nations, as its economy has already been seriously damaged by the end of the Cold War.

If the government in Beijing does not want to end up politically isolated itself, it would behoove them to persuade Pyongyang to stop menacing its neighbors instead of defending North Korea's economic condition, which is a direct result of Kim's own policy of isolationism.

China should learn from its past experiences of its camaraderie with North Korea. In this relationship, on many occasions, the leaders in Beijing were caught by surprise by North Korea's terrorist acts in other countries. One such incident was when a bomb blast, engineered by Pyongyang's commandos, killed four South Korean ministers accompanying president Chun Doo Hwan on a state visit to Burma (now Myanmar) in 1983 -- an act widely condemned by the civilized nations of the world. Beijing's then was only able to make a unclear and pointless statement in an effort to defend its unpredictable neighbor.

While Kim has never learned from such an act of terrorism, we expect Beijing to learn from its own experience as Pyongyang's only ally.