Bipolar North Korea?

Today, according to BBC, North Korea called to reconcile relations with the U.S.  This was stated by the state news agency Korean Central News Agency.  Traditionally, Pyongyang collaborates with the country’s three leading newspapers in an effort to represent its party, military, and militia force, and experts analyze the statements to project the country’s new  year policies.

My first reaction when I read the article?  It appears to me that North Korea can’t seem to make up its mind.

Let’s recall North Korea’s most recent activities.  In 2008, tensions between the U.S. and N.K. arose during the six-party talks especially when the U.S. insisted on more intrusive verification measures on Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament.  In October 2008, the government forbade the IAEA inspectors from entering N.K.  Later in April 2009, North Korea fired the Taepodong-2 missile over Japan and into the Pacific, reports surfaced that N. Korea had become a “fully fledged nuclear power,” and N.K. froze the six-party talks.  Then a month later in May, North Korea conducted its underground nuclear detonation followed.  U.N. responded these events with sanctions along with the decree that any nation could inspect N. Korea’s ships if they were believed to carry weaponry.  Days later, the U.S. followed with economic sanctions, and a week later on the 4th of July, N.K. launched seven ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan as a sign of defiance.  Later in December, when President Obama visited Pyongyang, the government only stated that it would work with Washington to “narrow remaining differences.”

Experts have noticed that after Kim’s stroke in summer 2008, North Korea has taken a more hard-lined approach towards its nuclear negotiations, as illustrated from the above mentioned paragraph.  Due to the succession crisis of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea has been flexing its nuclear muscles to demonstrate N.K.'s continued strength even at the nadir of Kim’s regime.  Others postulate that the military has taken the upper hand in the six-party talks.

From the trajectory that North Korea set out from late 2008 to the Obama talk in December, the regime appeared hostile with little desire to cooperate with the U.S. or the international community.  In a little less than a month, Pyongyang is now suddenly offering to reconcile?  Seems to be a very short turn-around time here.

So how does all this tie into North Korea’s surprising New Year message?  Perhaps it’s a new gimmick that Pyongyang is pulling due to domestic dilemmas.  But as an optimist, I hope that North Korea is turning to new policies after realizing that its internationally condemned policies were unsuccessful.  The article stated that Pyongyang called for a “lasting peace system on the Korean Peninsula” and to “end hostile relationship” with the U.S. in order to ensure peace and stability within the Peninsula and the continent.  Perhaps these statements reflect Pyongyang’s New Year resolution for 2010.  Hopefully North Korea means well and its actions will deliver results.

Vivian Zhang, C'11