Sunday, August 30, 2009

DeCal Update, Fires in Los Angeles

The DeCal page is now up.

More information will be posted on this blog, yes, I do indeed plan on podcasting all the classes. The page can be found here.

On a personal note, the fires that are blazing through Los Angeles have been on my mind a lot over the past two days. It wouldn't have been possible to anticipate how wide the fire has spread, but my mother's house is in one of the mandatory evacuation zones as of 2 am Sunday morning and until now 1am Monday morning. And, my hometown of La Crescenta is one of those neighborhoods that are threatened by the fire. I came across this piece of work here in the Los Angeles Times, a publication that I have been critical of in the past:

At its southwestern flank, the fire is spreading actively in the foothills above
the 210 Freeway, from Altadena to Little Tujunga. Officials said they had four
control objectives for the day:
-- Keep the fire west of Mt. Wilson Road
-- Keep it south of Highway 14.
-- Keep it east of Interstate 5.
-- Keep it north of both Foothill Boulevard and Altadena Drive (Firefighters predict another difficult day as they battle blaze on multiple fronts Los Angeles Times)

I mean, I don't know if the situation is that desparate, though it looks pretty bad or if its a typo or if its probably the least ambitious goal I've ever seen. Though I fear I am treading on hallowed ground here by criticizng the firefighting effort, that statement right there should and probably would induce panic in a lot of people -- I believe it is an extreme case of irreponsible journalism.

If I were to criticize all four of those statements together, it would sound even worse as that's a huge stretch of land right there, but if just all the houses above Foothill Boulevard were lost, then that's half of La Crescenta and La Canada-Flintridge, not to mention the neighboring suburbs of Tujunga, Sunland, and Altadena. Twelve thousand homes as one publication put it. My family has lived there for more than two decades now and I've never seen this before nor have I seen such a lackluster goal before.

The Los Angeles Times does provide an "interactive map."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A surprising discovery. Of a Heating System and Balhae

Well, I was writing about the embassy, when I stumbled upon an article reporting the discovery of Ondol heated houses during the Balhae period. It made me stop and write abut this much more interesting topic. I'll return to the embassy later.

Previously, I alluded to the Balhae(발해,渤海) topic or the North-South States Period:

By the way, on a tangent here, for those Koreans, who believe in this newly created North-South States Period Theory or 남북시대 (신라+발해 = Korea), let me tell you -- it's pure rubbish, which I would like to address in detail one day(The main question behind that issue comes down to who were the Mohe (말갈, 靺鞨) people (A Schizophrenic Han : Breaking Down Borders: Korea).

Well, I'm not sure if it's "pure rubbish" anymore. A lot of information that is available on this topic is the subject of debate between many nationalist historians (you'd be hard pressed to find a better oxymoron), so much of what is available on the topic is unreliable at best. But, first, let me try to go over what is generally accepted. By the way, the Mohe (말갈, 靺鞨) people were ancient Manchurians.

What is generally accepted is that up until the late Joseon dynasty Koreans felt that Silla unified Korea for the first time in 664 A.D., but beginning at this point in time, certain Koreans felt that many Koreans had forgotten that Silla had unified only part of the peninsula and that vast tracts of Manchuria, which had been controlled or contested by Goguryeo and Balhae up until the end of the first millenium, had been largely ignored when studying the history and legacy of Korea.

What happened in 664 was that Silla in an alliance with the Tang Dynasty, whose forces Silla also had to defeat for control of the Korean peninsula, finally controlled the Korean peninsula by herself. In that the the (Early) Three Kingdoms Period of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla gave way to just Silla. But, sometime in the eighteenth century, certain Korean historians from the Joseon dynasty felt that the heritage left by Goguryeo had been ignored and that by ignoring vast tracts of Manchuria, which Goguryeo had controlled, but Silla couldn't, Koreans were indeed ignoring much of Korean history.

This is precisely where Balhae comes in. You see, those parts that Silla (or Tang) couldn't control ended up being part of a new state called Barhae(발해, 渤海). But, since most of Korean history from that point on comes from the Silla perspective or a Korea unified by Silla, studies of Barhae must come from either Chinese or Japanese sources. While much about Balhae remains controversial, I'd say the following statement is less so. This is from an old Japanese source that recorded a letter from a Balhae king:

'復高麗之舊居,有扶餘之遺俗' translated into "Balhae is the country that upholded the tradition and spirit of the Koguryo and Buyeo" (續日本紀; English translation found from The Chinese History Forum).

So, in other words, Balhae, according to those who lived in Balhae as the Japanese source reports, is the successor state to Goguryeo. But, what does this mean? Does this mean that the kings and people of Balhae are indeed of Goguryeo (or Korean) stock? And, what does it mean to be Korean? Does living under Goguryeo mean that you are indeed Korean? Or, no? This is where it gets complicated. For me, I was under the impression and still am under the impression that the kings of Balhae were probably of Goguryeo(Koguryo, Buyeo) stock, but it's people less so. I'll get into what Buyeo means in a second. But, first:

The largest "ondol" heating system dating from the Balhae Kingdom has been unearthed in a nearly intact state in Russia's Maritime Province, confirming the kingdom to have been a Korean settlement.

Ondol, literally "warm stone", is an under-floor heating system where flues carry hot gases below the living space. They were a distinct feature of Korean dwellings and are not found in the remains of Chinese, Khitan or Jurchen homes ("Heating System Confirms Ancient Kingdom Was Korean" : Chosun Ilbo).

This makes it seem as if not only the rulers were Korean, but that the people who lived under Balhae were also Korean (Khitan or Jurchen are names for Manchurians or ancient Manchurians). Ironically, what is interesting is that I would actually argue that from what I have read is that Japan should be seen as the natural successors to Goguryeo (haha, I might get shot here), but those that spoke a Buyeo language were Goguryeo rulers(and subjects), Baekje rulers (and possibly her subjects), and, yes, Wa (Japan). Notice the conspicuous absence of Silla here. As Silla unified the peninsula, Buyeo became an extinct language on the Korean peninsula.

There is actually a stone edifice found with Goguryeo inscriptions during the Japanese colonial period, which led Japanese scholars at that time to believe that Japan had colonized Korea before. This, of course, is preposterous as it is actually the case that "Korean" (or Buyeo-speaking) people from the peninsula were fleeing from Silla that colonized Japan and that those that had fled to the island had actually returned back to the motherland.

At any rate, I'm not yet sure how much this new discovery lends credence to the case that Balhae was a Korean kingdom, but if only Koreans used the Ondol heating system and those living under Goguryeo used it and those that lived under Balhae used it, but the people that lived under Jinthe Liao Dynasty and later Manchurian states did not in the same geographical area, I would be inclined to think that Balhae was indeed a "Korean" kingdom.

Of course, this gains additional traction today when you consider that Korea remains a divided country with there being a northern Korean state and a southern Korean state and that this would then resemble the period where there were two Korean states a millenia ago (Balhae and Silla). So, perhaps, (Silla + Balhae = Korea, 신라+발해 = 코리아) as much as (North Korea + South Korea = Korea).

North Korean Embassy in Europe Part I

During the heydays of the Sunshine Policy before, of course, before it became widely discredited, South Korea actively encouraged Western Democratic nations to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with North Korea. When France had setup diplomatic relations with North Korea, I felt it was a no brainer. I mean to me the French have always been no different than the Russians; they just don’t want to be left out (Of course, you can go all the way back to Napoleon III, who helped unify Germany and in the process create a neighbor that is naturally larger and stronger than you). So, anyways, when I heard of that I didn’t make much of it.

But, when the United Kingdom setup diplomatic relations with the North Korean regime, in my mind it was decidedly different. With the United Kingdom holding a “special” relationship with the United States, more so at that time than any other – it was right around the time after the 9/11 attacks, I thought this meant that the Sunshine Policy was in some ways gaining traction in Western Europe. I say this to mean that Europe also thought that by engaging North Korea, in the traditional sense of the word engagement, North Korea would eventually give up its nuclear weapons program in order to join the global community of nations as a responsible member. Consider the muted reaction to the rocket launch in South Korea using a rocket built from largely Russian technology to the North Korean missile launches using rockets built using, again, largely Russian technology.

During that time, North Korea was thought to have begun to "embrace" economic reforms by letting small markets develop. North Korea has since then went back on most of these developments and it is now thought that most of these developments arose as state controls were breaking down rather than North Korea choosing to reform its economic system.

Well, if you do a quick search on the web for information on the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) embassies in London and Paris, then not much really pops up. And, considering that I was indeed in the capital of these countries, all it took was a quick search to find where the mission was and to go out there and check it out myself. What did the people there actually do? Could I actually go there and ask them questions? How accessible were these diplomats or those people representing the North Korean regime in the West?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shrimp among whales?

The reason that I brought up the population of these countries is not to suggest that Korea is a better country by any means, but to rid the common perception that Korea is not a "shrimp among whales" at all. It's just the very fact that Korea's neighbors are so monstrously large that lends credence to this misnomer.

Consider that among the countries neighboring the two Koreas that the next two smallest countries in terms of population--Japan and Russia both have well over a hundred million people. Of course, there are no equivalents in Europe (just assume Russia is not a part of Europe, which it really isn't in my opinion and who, according to most Russia observers these days, doesn't really care to be). Then, of course there's China.

What brings me to writing about this topic is that in the process of visiting the regions outside London, it's hard not to come across the feeling that this country isn't that large. What I mean by this is when I visited Wales, I could picture a lof of the people that were there would consider a visit to her capital as like a visit to the city. I mean, yes, I bet rural areas the world over, including those in the United States, would fall into a similar category, but just the ridiculously small scale at which this occurs in let's say not just parts of the U.K., but that of France, Spain, and probably Italy as well, reminded me of what I felt when I would come across people that have lived in Seoul their whole lives without visiting Busan even once and vice versa.

Perhaps, this is the norm in most parts of the world and countries such as the United States, China, or Russia are the exceptions. But, to me it shed the image of Korea being this really small country if countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Italy were, by nature, actually smaller than Korea. Of course, none of these countries borders a China, let alone a Japan.

Now consider South Korea's recent satellite launch from her own territory and North Korea's many "attempts" to put a satellite into orbit -- though I question whether there actually were more than dummy satellites in the North Korean missiles. It seems more than a tad ridiculous in my opinion that in South Korea's quest to attain respect and prestige somewhat akin to China, the country would be willing to expend vast sums to build a rocket when the country remains divided.

South Korea forgets that when most foreigners hear news of a rocket launch from South Korea, they hear the word South, before the word Korea at all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Breaking Down Borders: Korea, DeCal Update

I'm happy to announce that the DeCal, Breaking Down Borders: Korea will be offered this semester.

This is an excerpt from the official DeCal Page:
The DeCal Program (or just DeCal) is a student-run democratic education program at the University of California, Berkeley - here, students create and facilitate their own classes on a variety of (often unorthodox) subjects.

Each semester we support over 150 courses facilitated by students, for students, on topics ranging from Taiwanese Language to Simpsons and Philosophy. These are accredited Pass / No Pass courses on our campus. To facilitate a course, a student must find a faculty sponsor. For example, a student wishing to facilitate a course on a favorite book can find an English professor to sponsor the course (as English 98/198 on student transcripts.)

Around 3000-4000 UC Berkeley students take DeCals each semester. DeCals are awesome, popular, and all the cool kids take them. So if you’re a UC Berkeley student, check it out.

It will start either during the 3rd week or 4th week of instruction and class will be from 6-8pm on Mondays. I just submitted a request for a classroom today, so I don't know where the class will be as of yet, but you can find the syllabus here. And, while I do have the course control numbers (CCNs) for UC Berkeley students, as I just sent the paperwork to the DeCal office in the MLK building the course is not yet listed on the site. I will post more information as it becomes available.

I am also fairly certain that I will try podcasting the presentations as well through this blog. as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And school starts...

After a week long vacation, I'm heading back up to Berkeley today for my final year of undergraduate studies.

I have some pictures and information on the North Korean embassy in London that I'd like to share shortly. There's like no information available on this embassy if you do an Internet search for it now.

In the meantime, if you look below I posted some of the articles I believe may be of paritcular interest that I've written over the course of the past couple months.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The passing of another South Korean President

I was saddened to hear that President Kim Dae Jung, who I believe to probably have been South Koreas most successful, civilian president has passed away. President Park Chung Hee would I believe still claim that prize on the grounds of putting into place policies first providing for sustained economic growth, including the normalization of ties with Japan (1965) and its accompanying economics dividends.
"I came here because I wanted to see you." — Statement to the North Korean people upon arriving in Pyongyang in June 2000 for the first inter-Korean summit.
But, I believe history too will judge the presidency of Kim Dae Jung in a similarly controversial, yet benign light. I mean, while a central and noble figure in South Korea s fight (and I mean this in a very literal, physical form of the word) towards a democratic form of government, his presidency was marred by the $500 million that has been shown to have been given to North Korea in exchange for the summit.

Yet, at the same time, he introduced economic reforms, after the IMF bailout in 1997, that not only broke apart several conglomerates or jaebols that during the IMF period, which ironically were first adopted during the Park Chung Hee Era, but which resided over a period where Korea experienced a sharp and very rapid economic recovery.

I feel that it is unfortunate that he became President so late as many of the statements that Kim Dae Jung made in recent years made many treat his words a bit lightly. I d say it s like the wise, but aged grandfather figure type of treatment particularly with respect to how the domestic press in that country covered him. An example would be his very public disagreement with curent South Korean President Lee Myung Bak this year.

I will be on vacation for the remainder of the week.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The past week...

I just started a week long backpacking trip in Europe. It began yesterday and I'm actually at an Internet Cafe in Paris waiting for the train station to open (By the way, I've noticed that Paris seems to be such a more lively city than its dead and limp counterpart in England). I have nothing, but praise for this city in the couple days I've been here except for the outrageous price for food and drinks. I'm comparing this experience with visits to Wales, Scotland (Glasgow and Edinburgh), and Northern Ireland (Belfast) over the course of living in London for the past month and a half.

There's a lot of things that I'd like to talk about it in the coming week, including:

Earlier on in this decade, during the height of the Sunshine Policy, many countries in Europe including the United Kingdom opened up diplomatic relations with North Korea with strong encouragement from the government in South Korea. So, on my last day in the U.K., I decided to go and visit the DPRK embassy. To my surprise, I found the resident ambassador to be quite accessible, even though I came after closing hours for the embassy and I left with some magazines. More on this later.

A visit to where the DPRK mission in France should have been.

I know Koreans and, perhaps, Americans, have this image that Korea is a very small country. But, if you think about it. It's not at all that small, depending on your definition of what constitutes a small country.

Consider that France, the United Kingdom, and Italy each have a population of about 60,000,000 with France having the largest number of people with 64,057,792(CIA World Factbook). Spain and Poland are each then att 35,000,000 or so.

So, if you think about it. Korea's not that small. And, I guess whenever Koreans use the excuse that we're a small country it's just not sound reasoning. So, on this basis, Korea isn't that small by any means. South Korea stands at some fifty million and, if unified, would outnumber all countries in the E.U. with the exception of Germany. I guess

Monday, August 10, 2009

Some postings from the first two months...

Korean's invented Chinese Writing (June 12th, 2009): Written after hearing that my aunt, who has a very mild and uncombative personality, express her very firm opinion that Chinese Writing (한자, 漢字) was indeed a "Korean creation." Curious about this and shocked to find that it was Chinese propaganda that gave birth to this myth, I credit this article has having driven to me to create this blog.

Response: U.S./Democracy, Anti-Americanism (June 16th, 2009): I argue against many of the more common perceived injustices allegedly perpetrated by the United States against Korea and/or Koreans.

Dangerous Times : Extended Deterrence (June 17, 2009): It was the first major news event -- Lee-Obama Summit in Washington, D.C., that occurred after the blog was created. I write that I've never felt a time in my life when I felt the chance of war was higher.

Korea is not as cool as Japan (June 23, 2009) : A critique on how Korea has been unable to effectively advertise it's brand name. Since then, I've found out that the slogan adopted by the Tourism Board in Korea is "Korea, Sparkling" after its multi-year, failed effort of "Dynamic Korea." Also, here are a couple other poorly crafted tourism slogans:

Andalucia. There’s only one. If you can’t think of anything else to say about a place, this should work.

Annapolis, Maryland’s “Come Sail Away” — inviting visitors to come… and leave, preferably by boat.

“Wales. The Big Country” No, Canada is a big country. So is China. And India, Brazil, Australia. If you’re going to start making **** up, why not say Wales is a tropical island with white sandy beaches and attractive, well-tanned natives who serve free beer around the clock ("Tourism Slogans" : The Titanic Awards).

Wales is a Big Country. I'm headed there tomorrow. :)

North Korea Update: Relentless Scolding and the State of the Six Party Talks (July 31, 2009) : I write:

"On a personal note, I'm surprised that North Korea hasn't done more to garner more U.S. attention and lets hope that this august will be a quiet august. "
Yes, I am trying to insinuate that a part of me was predicting a Clinton-type trip. This was, after all, written right after I talk about the high risk of war in Dangerous Times : Extended Deterrence (June 17, 2009). After the sanctions, and Gangnam I being followed by a U.S. ship and the high chance of a military conflict in the Yellow (West) Sea, nothing happens...

Why Clinton's trip is not appeasement (August 4th, 2009) : More recently, I argue why Clinton's trip is not appeasement. Of course, in hindsight, it looks rather silly and obvious, but before those images of a triumphant Clinton landing in Burbank, California, I'd like to think it wasn't that obvious. A couple producers from BBC Radio's "Have Your Say" actually invited me to their August 5th show after reading this article I believe. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to respond back in time -- there was a four hour gap after receiving the e-mail invitation and the show. And, as I'm currently in London -- somewhat ironically, I have data roaming turned off, so the Internet connection on my iPhone comes and goes.

This blog -- two months on...

Updated 3/17/2010

In this blog, I feel I have an avenue outlet, where I can express my views and opinions. I mostly write about issues that I feel strongly about. I usually relate it to my own personal life experienes either in  school or not. Sometimes, I write about what I feel I like to share. Other times, I find myself too busy to write anything at all. My views are not written to be as provocative as possible; however, I might come off as combative at times.

I write a lot about Korea as I find there's a lot of interesting things going on in that country for its own sake -- something that may not be shared by others in general. The country has such a strange history -- same borders, same people for so long that it has led to some very peculiar things.  Sometimes, I feel this is something that is relevant to a larger audience. I wrote a series on my personal experiences that I feel have strongly shaped who I am today and how I view the world:
About the name of this blog
Stella Kim, who is now an alumni at the University of California, Berkeley, and who first started and taught the DeCal entitled Breaking Down Borders created the name Breaking Down Borders. I took her DeCal twice before I first facilitated a DeCal with the like name. Nonetheless, those views and opinions and the like that I post are my own and have always been my own, unless otherwise cited. The curriculum of the current DeCal in its current form was created from scratch in the fall semester of 2008 and most of the ideas presented in the DeCal can be found throughout this blog.

While I haven't profitted from this weblog nor do I see it being a profitable venture anytime soon -- such a niche audience, I do reserve the right to change my views in light of new information. In particular, I also reserve the right to be wrong and to change my mind in light of new information. Postings on this blog may not be reprinted or reused in full without my permission (usually the author -- me) --  Sometimes, I post entire essays. I do give permission and encourage others to expand upon my postings or reprint my postings provided that the author of the posting and the name of the blog is cited.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hurray for Hangul

Indonesian Tribe adopts Hangul

This has got to be the most interesting development for Hangul, the Korean written alphabet ever:

"For the first time ever, the Korean alphabet has been adopted as the official script of a small tribe in a foreign country. The Hunminjeongeum Research Institute on Thursday said that the Cia-Cia tribe of Bau-Bau city on Buton Island, located in the southeastern Indonesian province of Sulawesi, has adopted Korean or Hangul to transcribe its aboriginal language" ("Hangul Adopted as Alphabet of Small Indonesian Tribe" : The Chosun Ilbo).

I mean it makes sense and it's been long overdue (But, something about this story strikes me as a bit perverse, more on that later). As I'd like to just come out and venture that Hangul is probably one of the easiest langauges to pick up (it's written aspect). Perhaps, it'll make for a more meaningful and exciting Hangul Day next year.

My younger brother writes Happy Birthday wishes to our grandmother in Hangeul each year and he does so in this systematic process where he just spells the words out as he thinks it should be heard or spoken -- phonetically that is.

Of course, the fact that he never went to a Korean language school his whole life doesn't hinder him from doing this. He just simply picked it up from our mother; I'm telling you, it's got to be one of the easiest languages to pick up. But, definitely not one very easy to master though (Oh this does bring up that debate about how certain people feel that grammatically Korean has two faces, educated Korean and regular Korean).

Anyways, I get this feeling that the South Korean government -- you see, South Korea lies at the heart of super autocratic and centralized Northeast Asia, so I would venture to guess that in all likelihood language would also be regulated by the government (proper spelling -- imagine that in the states).

Oh, and of small government?

Though despite how pervasively the central governments step on individual liberty, rights, and property in that part of the world (all Northeast Asian countries included), it's amazing how small income (and consumption) taxes are as a share of total income in that part of the world (of course, North Korea would have to be excluded here). For example, I think a recent election pledge in Japan by both parties is to not raise the, of course, national sales tax above the current five percent for the forseeable future.

But of that small share, how much South Korean taxpayer money do you thinking is going into this? I know I just wrote that it makes sense in that Hangul is easy to pick up, but somehow, this story gives me this weird feeling that South Korea is taking advantage of this Indonesian tribe that lacks a written language out of their own vanitybut, something about this story strikes me as a bit perverse as if the South Korean government is somehow taking advantage of this poor innocent Indonesian tribe -- caring more about how this demonstrates what a great written language Hangul is than of the welfare of this poor tribe (somewhat akin to the Recognize Taiwan effect).

Friday, August 7, 2009

A monumental success.. in a perverted sort of way.

Regarding the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, Joshua Stanton over at One Free Korea writes what Laura Ling and Euna Lee should and shouldn't do now that they've regained their freedom. Here's an excerpt:
2. The only things we want to hear at LAX are how you [Laura Ling and Euna Lee] really got across the border and a few polite words of thanks for those who helped to free you. Were you abducted, did you get lost, were you lured, or are you just imbeciles who were trying to cover a story you knew absolutely nothing about? Then go home to your families and say nothing else for at least a week.


5. As a corollary to number 4, if you actually got people killed by carrying video of them into North Korea, repent what you have done. The ignorance and stupidity that killed them should weigh on you. Telling their stories is a small token of the burden of repentance that you owe them. I would much prefer, of course, that you truthfully clarify that you did no such thing.


10. If you did cross the border voluntarily, mortgage your homes now and start writing checks to repay the taxpayers for whatever your ransom cost us ("Almighty God, Please Spare Us the Retch-Inducing Stockholm Syndrome Speeches" : One Free Korea).
I don't particularly agree with all those comments about Current TV (looks as if Al Gore tried to do a lot from behind the scenes) and Larry King Live though. I think it would be wonderful if they would be able to get on Larry King and get people to watch a show for even twenty minutes about North Korea (with that said, I haven't watched television for like a year now except for certain sporting events, but I would find a television to watch just that).

And, consider the flip side to all this backlash and negative energy aimed at these three journalists. In the end, their initial goal of spreading awareness of North Korea's human rights violations was a monumental success on a level nobody could have even remotely anticipated. So much so that we are now witnessing a backlash against them receiving too much media attention and how they shouldn't appear on Oprah or Larry King Live or write a book, etc.

Them receiving media exposure should, by extension, either through them directly talking about it or by spillover, also entail North Korea's Human Rights Situation getting some exposure as well. And, to be honest, I'd probably read one of their books if--when one becomes published (And, it's been quite some time since I've read a book as well).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A post about something

The last couple posts were largely written from the perspective of me trying to put forth what I thought Clinton's summit meant now and what it could mean in the future. But, for today's post -- and I'm trying very hard to refrain from posting for the sake of posting, I'm going to have to criticize probably the worst editorial I've come across in a long time and try to undo the disservice to the American public that the New York Times has just done. It's definitely worse than the fairly recent editorial from the Los Angeles Times on which I had so much to say. This is just an excerpt:
To start, that means not giving in to Pyongyang’s desire to make the talks a bilateral process with Washington. It is imperative to keep South Korea, Japan, China and Russia — key participants in any effective deal — engaged. Officials from Washington and Pyongyang can still meet separately, as they did under Mr. Bush.

Most important, the United States and its partners need to make clear that the expectations are higher than they were before — that North Korea will not be rewarded again just for recommitting to promises that were broken before and likely will be broken again. Future steps toward disarmament must be irreversible.

Under a 2005 agreement, North Korea shut down its reactor at Yongbyon — the source of plutonium for its nuclear weapons — and promised to dismantle its bomb-making infrastructure. It has since kicked out international inspectors and claims to be rebuilding and resuming its capabilities. One way to make disablement more permanent: pour concrete into the reactor core ("Next Steps With North Korea" : New York Times).
I thought George W. Bush's Administration was out of touch with reality when during the entire time North Korea systematically went from first withdrawing from the NPT and then kicking out inspectors at Yongbyon to eventually detonating a nuclear device, the only thing the Bush Administration actually did was mutter ridiculously delusional demands, such as "CVID" (Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible, Disarmament).

But, this article. This article reminds me of those translated to English, Neoconfucian classics on what it takes to be a good leader or a good king or like a saying from Sun Tzu's Art of War. It throws basically everything a wise and virtuous leader should do (basically mention anything and everything that could be written down without expressing a coherent opinion and, of course, all the while conveniently not mentioning any explicit course of action a good and virtuous leader should actually do). It might make for great philosophy -- if you're into that kind of thing, but it sure shouldn't be wasting space on a major U.S. daily.

What got me in particular was how the author doesn't take a position on the six-party talks. North Korea feels betrayed (China is a permanent member on the U.N.S.C. and they recently passed sanctions against North Korea). So, of course, North Korea doesn't want to go to Beijing for Six-Party Talks. And, the U.S. has rejected bilateral talks with North Korea. And, President Obama is saying nothing has changed:
In words that may well serve to reassure U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, Gibbs said U.S. policy had not changed as a result of Clinton's visit ("White House says policy toward North Korea unchanged" : Reuters India).
So, I would think that this article would have a new suggestion linking back to something from Clintons' trip that has somehow allowed for some new type of dialogue (which it doesn't do) or argue for something that's been proposed in the past (which it also doesn't do).

In an editorial one would expect a stance toward a particular issue and would take the time to outline it. For example, I think it's about time to let the six party talks die, perhaps in favor of four-party talks (and not necessarily in Beijing either). There are just too many countries representing too many interests, which makes the entire process too cumbersome. It also rewards Beijing for doing absolutely nothing, while giving the U.S. the false impression and hope that Beijing actually has the influence to reign in North Korea from developing nukes, when the country clearly doesn't.

Moreover, what does the author mean when writing that the United States must keep her allies "engaged" even as the United States and North Korea can meet without the presence of her allies. I mean what type of "engagement" are we talking about.

President Obama's "engagement" -- which is more like George W. Bush Administration's CVID talk were it ever to have been implemented into policy one day? Or, how Japan was being engaged when the U.S. notified her closest ally in Asia some twenty minutes before taking North Korea off its list of states sponsoring terrorism? (Recall that North Korea kidnapped Japanese citizens from Japanese soil -- imagine the outcry if that happened in California -- which is similar to the warcry that gave us California -- and, of course, North Korea actually harbored Japanese communist terrorist/rebels; This is similar to the Bush Administration's accusations against Tehran early on in this decade if these accusations actually turned out to be true). By the way, I really am a Republican (in a more traditional sense, if you get what I mean).

But anyways, back to this work of profound thought. The author writes, "Future steps toward disarmament must be irreversible." Umm. There's more to this sentence than just stating the obvious and moving towards the asinine. "One way to make disablement more permanent: pour concrete into the reactor core."

Anyways, the reason I bring this up is that this article for all it's gibberish gives off the illusion that people still believe that North Korea will give up it's nuclear weapons in exchange for aid one day. And, this is exactly what this trashy editorial (can't believe it was actually published in the New York Times) presumes: North Korea will give up its nukes. And, one thing that the past sixteen years has shown...Why else would the Obama Administration be "engaging" North Korea in a way that has changed the definition of the word "engagement" (something this reporter just doesn't seem to get).

Sixteen years of North Korean intransigence has now shown both those that had been previously in favor of "engagement" (Sunshine Policy people, what the word used to mean when previously used in context of North Korea) with North Korea and those that didn't are now all basically in agreement -- North Korea will not give up it's nuclear weapons (But let's say for the sake of this article, that it's possible. North Korea will willingly give up its nukes -- as the country borders China, South Korea, and Russia). This time though, let's make it permanent: "One way to make disablement more permanent: pour concrete into the reactor core."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What to expect from Clinton's "Summit"

And, Kim Jong Il Gets What He Wants... (Which is ? Scroll to the way bottom)
While former President Clinton goes to North Korea (as an unoffical guest, which is quite convenient for the U.S.), Kim Jong Il finally gets his one-on-one encounter with a (former, Democratic) U.S. president -- before he dies. It made all the headlines here in the U.K. as well, however I couldn't find an equivalent of the one they had at over at the Economist. I nabbed the picture below from "North Korea: Pictures from an exhibition" : The Economist.

At any rate, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il finally got the attention he so craved. While reading one of the U.K. dailies today, I came across this one part, which I thought was quite funny. These are insults that have been traded between the U.S. and the North Korean regime at one point or another:

Kim Jong-il may have been all smiles and handshakes with Bill, but just a few days ago his regime was in something of a slanging match with the other Clinton.

On a recent visit to New Delhi, Hillary, the Secretary of State, bemoaned the North Korean leadership's "constant demand for attention," before adding: "Maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers."

The North Koreans' response was firm. "We cannot but regard Mrs Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community," a spokesperson said. "Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes like a pensioner going shopping."

The name-calling between Washington and Pyongyang is not new. George W Bush branded Kim Jong-il "a spoiled child at a dinner table". The North Koreans called Bush a "tyrannical imbecile" lacking "even an iota of elementary reason". And in 1968, North Korea's Major-General Pak Chung Kuk called Lyndon Johnson a "living corpse" ("Two U.S. journalists freed from Korean gulag" : The Independent).
At any rate, there was a lot of press coverage, but with expectations suddenly raised between North Korea and the U.S., although I feel I am a quite an optimist by nature, I cannot be more than a tad pessimistic about what may lay ahead. This "summit" has all the elements that the Koizumi-Kim summit had in 2002 when Koizumi suddenly and unexpectedly arrived in North Korea for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for the release of Japanese abductees. Of course, none at the time and nobody more so than former Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi could have anticipated how adversely the Japanese public would consume the news that their citizens had indeed been abducted.

Personally, I believe what will drive North Korea-U.S. relations as well as with the other four parties from the six party framework, is how each party comes to accept the fact that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons. This stands in stark and direct conflict with the fact that the United States will never accept North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power along the lines that the U.S. has with India -- and rightly so.

But, I do believe the U.S. would be content to see a steady-state where North Korea has nuclear weapons, but doesn't share/sell nuclear weapons or technology to other countries or non-state actors. Of course, this would hinge on North Korea not testing nuclear weapons (you can see this as the U.S. -- I'm thinking Department of Defense here, which has a different definition as to what constitutes a nuclear test than the U.S. State Department). And, of course, this action by the U.S. would in and of itself be a security guarantee for North Korea -- while not directly in the form of an alliance, the U.S. will do everything in its power to make sure a state with nuclear weapons does not collapse (think Pakistan).

But, pessimissm aside, I have a feeling that come one year -- and provided Kim Jong Il doesn't die, not much will have changed from how things were perhaps a couple years ago. If North Korea returns to a posture where it looks like it is going to negotiate, then South Korea can again start trading with North Korea and, well, unfortunately Japan looks like the odd man out (I'm quite concerned about what would happen if Japan's interests were not considered by the U.S., leading to Japan re-arming. Japan has quite a few greivances with all her neighbors: Kuril Islands/lack of peace treaty (Russia), Liancourt Rocks (Korea), No Peace Treaty (North Korea), and the Senkaku Islands (China/Republic of China(Taiwan)). I'm probably missing some others as well.

Anyways, I'm thinking that at best we can expect a return to the status quo and see what type of vocabulary each country uses to come up with a tacit acceptance of North Korea's nuclear weapons program as no country will go to war with North Korea to get rid of it.

(So, Kim Jong Il gets a de-facto security guarantee from the United States with the potential for much more).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why President Clinton's Trip is Not Appeasement

About a decade late, but former President Bill Clinton is finally heading to North Korea. Not to secure the country's nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles programs, but to noblely win the release of two captured American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee -- as if the outcome was uncertain with another former president heading over there:
The Obama administration is rewarding North Korea for its bad behavior by sending ex-president Bill Clinton to Pyongyang to win the release of two US journalists, the former US ambassador to the UN said Tuesday.

John Bolton, an outspoken hardliner in the previous administration of George W. Bush, told AFP that Clinton's mission to Pyongyang undermines a number of public stands held by his own wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"It comes perilously close to negotiating with terrorists," Bolton told AFP when asked about Bill Clinton's trip to secure the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee ("Bill Clinton rewarding NKorea for bad behavior: Bolton" : Agence France-Presse)

While in principle I've always been a supporter of John Bolton even when he fell out with the George W. Bush administration when the administration did its sudden U-turn on its North Korean policy, I wouldn't believe it to be as bad as Bolton makes it out to be (yes, from one angle, it's a form of appeasement, but to rigidly be against a policy just because of it's name is a strike against common sense and an exercise in sheer stupidity) and considering how things currently are I think its realistically the most the U.S. can ask for.

Yes, while sending another former U.S. (Democratic) President to North Korea definitely looks bad as the U.S. seems to continually be rewarding North Korea for bad behavior -- bad behavior in the sense that North Korean behavior has led to sanctions on at least two different occasions by the United Nations Security Council, after mostly being championed by the U.S. And, sending a former President after the country allegedly explodes a couple nuclear devices definitely sends the wrong signal if the U.S. is against accepting North Korea as a nuclear state.

But realistically, and and I think this is where George W. Bush's North Korea policy was such a failure in its first administration, considering what the U.S. can actually do with respect to North Korea this is the best the U.S. can ask for. I mean with President Obama currently occupied with his domestic agenda and perhaps even the fate of his Presidency as the latest issue of the Economist points out:
"IF THE opinion polls are to be believed, Barack Obama is now, six months into his presidency, no more popular than George Bush or Richard Nixon were at the same stage in theirs" ("Crunch time" : The Economist)
Moreover, as the current U.S. President's attention is largely preoccupied by domestic concerns, such as healthcare, and as the six-party talks have died, there is no longer a readily agreeable forum for which North Korea and the U.S. can talk. So, I think sending former President Bill Clinton, who unlike former President Carter in 1994 was not married to then serving U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, will hopefully facilitate progress to be made on the more pressing issues of denuclearization, a peace treaty to a war that's lasted for more than half a century, and the division of a country. By this, I mean that these talks may lead to the creation of goodwill between the two sides and create new channels of communication (On a side note, I wonder if kidnapped Japanese or South Korean nationals will at all be mentioned as the two captured American journalists regain their freedom. My guess is not).

Perhaps, in this case, appeasement is the right way to go.

Though, if you look at U.S. actions in its entirety, appeasement would not be the right word to use. Recall, how the U.S. conducted it's own successful ballistic missile weapons test and, more recently, the successful missile defense test of weapons for all intent and purposes were supposed to simulate the missiles North Korea fired on the 4th of July:
"An Aegis-class U.S. naval ship then fired an interceptor missile, which struck the target about 160 km above the earth. The process -- from launch to shoot-down -- took less than five minutes" ("U.S. declares success in missile defense test" : Xinhua).