Friday, July 18, 2008

Does South Korea Support North Korea’s WMD Programs?

This post is a sequel to this Takeshima/Dokto post.

The Chosun Ilbo headline Seoul ‘Could Leave Tokyo in the Cold at Six-Party Talks’ doesn’t quite say it all. To quote from the report:

South Korea’s ambassador to Japan on Thursday warned Seoul could withdraw support for Japan in negotiations with North Korea, including over the abduction of Japanese nationals by the North in the 1970s and 80s, due to Tokyo’s renewed claim to the Dokdo islets. “Seoul has traditionally given Japan a certain degree of support at the six-party talks, especially on the nuclear, missile, and abduction issues,” Kwon Chul-hyun said. But Seoul's position could change, “if public opinion and political voices at home turn against cooperation with Tokyo.”

Let’s leave aside the absurdity of the implication that South Korea can give/withhold support to Japan or anybody else in the Six-Party on issues other than “nuclear, missile, and abductees issues”. I’m not sure exactly how they’ve supported Japanese efforts on the abductees issue, but I don’t really care. I have never expected any sympathy on that subject from a government that has for a long time taken its own more substantial abductees problem off the table to avoid antagonizing the North Korean authorities. Besides, anyone who has been following my blog knows that I am not exactly supportive of the Japanese government’s efforts, albeit for very different reasons.

But “…nuclear, missile…”? The South Koreans are so pissed off that they’ll not only let the North Korean authorities keep their nuclear and missile programs, and keep them pointed at Japan?

At least we all now can be sure that South Koreans do not consider North Korea’s WMD a threat. Thanks for the clarification.

ADD: Amidst the insanity, a voice of reason—President Lee Myung-bak. President Lee called for a long-term strategy on Dokto instead of these one-off, heated responses; while the Foreign Ministry indicated that it would conduct a survey on how Takeshima/Dokto is being treated worldwide. President Lee insisted that his administration continue to cooperate closely in the Six-Party Talks with the other participants, including Japan, on North Korea’s nuclear program. Let’s hope that this does not further erode his public support.


Darin said...

The last paragraph is indeed a point to consider. Lee is probably the best president S. Korea has had in a long time, yet his successors have done so much damage to Korea and her people through their absurd foreign policy and misplaced domestic priorities, that the average Kim and Park can't even realize how right Lee is on pretty much everything.

Jun Okumura said...


Some of Lee Myung-bak’s cabinet and subcabinet choices have turned out to be duds, but generally speaking, he appears to be an improvement on Roh Moo-hyun, especially where external relations are is concerned. The South Korean media and public evidently don’t see it that way. Externally, few nations are as cohesive as the Koreans, but it’s the other way around where domestic politics is concerned.

More generally with regard to President Roh, as well as other more recent predecessors of President Lee, I am a little more kindly disposed to them than I suspect you are. I think that President Roh made as much sense as the current President on economic policy, and that he and his administration were blamed for problems largely beyond their control. His worst political moves came when his popularity began dipping—not a show of great character, but not unexpected from a politician.

I also believe that Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy was a plausible attempt to bring the North Korean regime out of its protective shell. The extent of the ultimate futility of the efforts and the reasons for the enormity of the failure were not evident at the time. I cannot fault him for trying. President Kim also did a good job of handling the always-treacherous Japan-South Korea relationship. Kim Young-sam draws a blank with me.

But yes, I do think that history will deliver a more favorable verdict on Roh Tae-woo, Chun Doo-hwan, and, of course, Park Chung-hee than South Koreans currently do. (Park Chung-hee does retain great popularity among conservatives.)