Monday, June 7, 2010

[Correcting Gibberish from the Los Angeles Times Again] Re: Sinking of ship provides welcome distraction for North Korea *update3*

Edit: For clarity and readability...
Edit 3: Overlooked the political agenda of the article

I wrote before that blogs are useful for dissecting editorials -- particularly terrible editorials -- and that most editorials on North Korea can be summed up in a couple sentences. Well, this is one of them and a particularly dangerous one as the author has a couple award winning books with a deliberate political agenda. A welcome distraction?! How on earth can we know it's a welcome distraction... But, it's worse than that... Let's take a look...

"This will distract people from their troubles," said Cho Myong-chol, a Pyongyang-born economist and son of a former North Korean minister. Cho, who now lives in Seoul, doesn't believe that Kim was intimately involved in the attack.

"It is more likely that a local naval commander did it, but there could be some short-term benefit," Cho said. "In the long run, of course, it will only make their problems worse."

In an assessment released last week based on intelligence reports, the Washington-based International Strategic Studies Assn. concluded, "Kim Jong Il was so far winning the Cheonan incident he had instigated."

The big loser has been South Korea's conservative ruling party, which was trounced in local elections Thursday. The Grand National Party had hoped that outrage over the Cheonan would boost its popularity; instead the electorate appeared to be more concerned that President Lee Myung-bak was exploiting the incident with his hard-line stand toward North Korea. Results of an investigation of the sinking were not released until May 20, two weeks before the election.
Let me begin...this editorial is taking the position that like in the past, a North Korean provocation has been used to the country's advantage -- some how without the knowledge of Kim Jong Il. They have done They have been successful by diverting domestic attention away from their economic plight and also by affecting local elections in South Korea....

The editorial suggests that average North Koreans are hurting -- the title of the editorial is "Sinking of ship provides welcome distraction for North Korea" and that Kim Jong Il is winning. What makes this article more dangerous after re-reading it is that she won an award for writing a book as an investigative reporter on the human rights situation in North Korea -- after writing a book about the human rights situation in the Balkans. So, in effect, she is in effect implying that the current right of center ruling party in South Korea is responsible for the suffering of average North Koreans, allowing the North Korean leadership to take advantage of the situation, and sacrificing South Korea's best interests (as Kim Jong Il is "winning"). And, moreover, the South Korean government is doing all this to further their own political interests, which is pretty much an outright lie if you consider what is going on in South Korea...

This is flat wrong. And, North Korea will receive no further aid. China is also furious at North Korea. And, let's not forget that the author mentions a report that says  "Kim Jong Il is winning the incident that he instigated," but --  in the same editorial -- refers to conclusions from an economist who says its probably the work of a "local naval commander." From the inherent contradiction here in sources, this should serve to show that the author is basically picking and choosing which sources to cite to backup her "argument".

While I have nothing against the book -- which I have yet to read and of which I have heard nothing but praise, the author here makes a sweeping and rather incorrect generalization that either borders on naivete or very lazy and perhaps even dishonest journalism. I'd like to believe it's out of naivete. Let's begin by looking at how it should read:
First of all, Cho Myong-Chol like many other North Koreans are quick to pass blame on anybody, but Kim Jong Il. (This view is even prevalent among North Korean defectors and is very similar to revisionist looks at the role of the Japanese Emperor during World War II.) And, this economist apparently believes North Koreans will somehow forget about hunger and hyperinflation -- which may be the single biggest threat to the stability of the DPRK regime with markets in North Korea playing a larger role now in the DPRK economy just by speaking of going to war again. The currency reform fiasco has well at least led to a governmental apology, the alleged execution of the individual that was apparently in charge of the currency reforms, and, well, actual backtracking on the reforms. Moreover, recent studies suggest North Koreans blame their economic plight on not the United States or Japan or global factors, but failed DPRK policies and to an extent China. (Blaming China is from one of the K-blogs linked from my blog; I'm sorry I cant remember the exact post, but the report of a North Korean speaker saying something along the lines of "I understand why the US & South Korea won't help us, but aren't the Chinese our allies...") 

But, moreover, I find it highly improbable in a country where if you look at some of the press releases of past six-party talks and transcripts of interviews of those involved in the six-party talks, where all aspects of the North Korean negotiation agenda tactics is handed are -- to the frustration of other parties at the six-talks -- were handed down directly from Pyongyang, that this could have happened without Kim Jong Il's approval. Now, with that said, I am not the only one who believes the sinking of the Cheonan was done without the approval from Kim Jong Il and there are many North Korean experts, such as Andrei Lankov, who feel the same way. (Also, the study cited in the editorial itself.) Now, just by reading this article in the Los Angeles Times, it makes it look as Cho Myong-Chol knows or that there is some type of agreement in that a local commander ordered the attacks without Kim Jong Il's knowledge... But, most importantly, when discussing North Korea -- nobody can actually know for sure and this view is actually a minority view among North Korean observers, experts, and the like...

Second, the author writes "the big loser is the GNP" -- the ruling, right of center political party in South Korea. Again, this is a sweeping generalization and it overlooks who is actually the big loser here -- China and, by extension, North Korea. I think while there is some sense in South Korea that Lee Myung Bak has used this for his political gain, which may be true, the Cheonan fiasco basically forced North Korea and China into a corner. I would not think too much about how the "GNP was trounced." North Korea will get hit by some symbolic slap on the wrist, but they will not get any further aid and I find it highly improbable that this will result in North Korea actually getting more aid from South Korea. In fact, if anything it looks like North Korea will get back only some of the aid South Korea took away as a result of the fiasco.

The incident has also solidified the US-ROK alliance, US-Japan alliance, and also encouraged better ties between South Korea and Japan -- all of which, is not in the interests of China. Furthermore, it has created an uproar against China for her two-Korea policy and basically makes the giant country look hostage -- which it pretty much is -- to North Korea and also made China's six-party talks a farce. I bet many minds in China are weighing the continuing costs of supporting the regime -- which I'm fairly sure China is currently doing with great hesitation and only at the bare minimum level to avert a DPRK regime collapse.

Again, we have no idea that North Koreans actually believe they are about to go to war with South Korea, but the editorial makes it sound like it's a fact. And, what's worse is that the author is not only spreading misinformation on a topic she seems to poorly understand, but that the editorial doesn't even seem to actually put forward an agenda or a real argument. It's just gibberish dishonest.

Also, South Korea's ruling GNP right of center political party suffered losses in many parts of the country in largely mayoral races -- not inclusive of Seoul I believe, but why on earth is there an article like this in the Los Angeles Times? I mean, if it were it in Hankyoreh-rubbish I would understand, but it's pretty clear that South Korea -- by internationalizing the issue -- singlehandley strengthened the US-South Korea Alliance, US-Japan Alliance, and Japan-South Korea ties. Furthermore, China has become enraged at North Korea and Kim Jong Il "winning" would mean a successful succession which I doubt that this incident has furthered. I'm not sure if the author is deliberately doing this, but it looks pretty damn deliberate and while she may be an investigative reportor of human rights situations in the more exotic places in the world, I wonder why she would deliberately dive in South Korean politics.  

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