“War Could Break Out at Any Time”: DPRK Diplomats on the Offensive

Two recent reports have evidenced some noteworthy statements by North Korean diplomats abroad.  Clearly, they are spreading the word: the DPRK is not at fault for the Cheonan incident, the South Koreans (and the Americans, and the Japanese) are manipulating the investigation for political gain, and, most importantly, that war could break out at any time.

Huanqiu Shibao reports [translation by Adam Cathcart]:

环球网实习记者高倩报道,据英国路透社6月3日消息,朝鲜一名特使3日称,由于“天安号”事件导致朝韩紧张局势不断升级,朝鲜半岛随时可能爆发战争。Huanqiu internet reporting intern Gao Qing reports that according to news disclosed in England on June 3, an [unnamed] North Korean diplomat stated on June 3 that the “Cheonan” incident has led North Korea to a continually elevating state of alert, and that the Korean peninsula could erupt into war at any time.

报道称,朝鲜常驻联合国日内瓦办事处副代表李长玄3日在联合国军会议上称,朝鲜军队已进入全面备战状态,以便能迅速应对包括全面战争在内的任何报复性打击措施,只有朝韩签订和平协定,才能成功实现朝鲜半岛去核化。According to the report, Li Changhyon [李长玄(현)] the North Korean vice-representative to the United Nations Geneva office stated at a UN disarmament meeting that “the North Korean military has entered a mode of full preparations for war, and that this rapidly increased capability includes the full spectrum of warfare to strike out at any [attack] with reprisal measures.  Only North Korea [can] sign a peace treaty, and successfully remove nuclearization from the Korean peninsula.”
李长玄再次强调,朝鲜与“天安号”沉没毫无关系,并谴责韩国试图制造这一令人震惊的事件,以便挑起针对朝鲜的全面行动。韩国常驻日内瓦代表团团长林翰泽则在裁军会议上对李长玄的言论表示遗憾,“我们认为,(朝方的言论)只是出于宣传的目的。”  Li Changhyon re-emphasized that “North Korea has nothing to do with the sinking of the ‘Cheonan; South Korean criticism is an attempt to agitate people and moreso part of a broader attempt to provoke incidents with North Korea.”  The head of the South Korean delegation at Geneva,  Lin Hanze [Chinese transliteration; 林翰泽], spoke emotionally at the meeting to Li Changhyon, saying “We believe [that the statements of the North Korean side] are meant as propaganda.”

另外,李长玄还谴责美国在毫无根据的情况下支持韩国谴责朝鲜发射鱼雷击沉“天安号”。美国常驻裁军会议代表劳拉.肯尼迪对此进行了驳斥。她表示:“我承认朝鲜半岛局势十分危急,但我反对朝方这种陈述,反对诬蔑我的国家的那些言论。” 据悉,1950-53年间的朝鲜战争结束后,朝韩双方只签订了停火协议,并没有签署正式的和平协定。Furthermore, Li Changhyon blamed the United States in the situation for its baseless attitude of support for South Korea’s accusation that North Korea sank the ‘Cheonan’ with a torpedo.  American representative at the disarmament talks in Geneva, Lola Kennedy [Chinese transcription; 劳拉.肯尼迪], refuted this, stating “I recognize that the Korean peninsula is in a state of crisis, but I oppose the North Korean assertion, and oppose the slander of my country in the [North Korean] statement.”

After the conclusion of the Korean War (1950-1953), the two Koreas signed an armistice, not a peace treaty.

With news like this — and the little-reported assertion by NK military brass at a late May press conference that their nuclear weapons “are not merely for display” [原子弹”不是陈列品”, as the World Journal put it] — it’s little wonder that Chinese readers aren’t crying out for black armbands.  Go ahead and mourn the death of a movement 21 years ago, but do acknowledge that a Korean war (or a Korean nuclear attack on Beijing) could harm Chinese people, Chinese interests, and the social welfare of the Chinese people in a way that makes those flaming armed personnel carriers of 1989 look almost quaint.

Meanwhile, Son Mu-sin, the DPRK’s general delegate to France, gave an interview to the French-North Korean Friendship Association.  (As regular readers of this site will know, the DPRK still has not gotten France to extend formal diplomatic recognition, but is in the midst of a nice rapproachment with France under the Sarkozy administration.)

Full text of the interview, with a photo of the diplomat, is available here.  Son Mu-sin lays out three initial points:

Premièrement, le gouvernement conservateur de Lee Myung-bak se trouve actuellement dans une impasse politique. L’annonce des résultats de l’enquête sur le naufrage du Cheonan à la veille des élections locales prévues le 2 juin en Corée du Sud permet donc au pouvoir en place à Séoul de manipuler à son avantage les résultats du scrutin.

Deuxièmement, du fait de la politique envers la RPDC menée par Lee Myung-bak depuis son arrivée au pouvoir en février 2008, les relations entre le Nord et le Sud sont actuellement bloquées et tous les acquis du rapprochement intercoréen opéré depuis la Déclaration conjointe Nord-Sud du 15 juin 2000 ont été détruits. Lee Myung-bak ne veut pas assumer les conséquences de sa politique. L’incident du Cheonan lui fournit un prétexte.

Troisièmement, les autorités sud coréennes veulent entraver le processus d’édification d’une grande nation puissante et prospère à l’horizon 2010, dans lequel est actuellement engagée la République populaire démocratique de Corée, y compris avec le soutien d’autres forces extérieures hostiles à la RPDC.

Or, to translate roughly: 1) the Lee Myung Bak government is at an impasse with its domestic politics and manipulated the announcement of the Cheonan incident for benefit in the June 2 elections; 2) the DPRK just wants to implement the June 15 2000 declaration signed by Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung in Pyongyang, but the Lee Myung-bak government has been trying to undo such actions: the Cheonan affair therefore offers Lee a convenient pretext for continuing his disruption of inter-Korean relations; and 3) the South Koreans are jealous of North Korea’s progress toward a powerful and prosperous nation in 2010, and instead of engaging with the DPRK, are cooperating with exterior forces hostile to North Korea.

The interview goes on to reveal something that KCNA was intimating, but never expressed very subtley: the North Koreans believe that the conservative point of view toward North Korea (sanctions and strategic patience rather than zeal for negotiations and rapproachement) has won out in the Obama White House, and that the Cheonan incident has served to confirm this finally.  Or, as stated in the interview:

Néanmoins, les conservateurs américains ont fini par convaincre l’administration Obama de refuser le dialogue et les négociations au nom d’une « patience stratégique » vis-à-vis de la RPDC. Le soutien américain finalement apporté au montage sud-coréen dans l’affaire du Cheonan en fait partie.

By blaming the ROK for fabricating the incident, the North Korean diplomats can admit that the Cheonan incident has effectively and decisively alienated anyone within the Obama administration who might otherwise have been inclined to negotiate with the DPRK.  It seems that Andrei Lankov’s work (and that of the pugilistic Brian Myers as well) is proving itself, again, to be accurate in this case: absent the external enemy, there is no reason for the North Korean state to remain in its present form.  Ratcheting up external tensions is, in effect, the one means left at the disposal of the increasingly atrophied leadership of the DPRK to rally the population behind it.  150-day “speed campaigns” of volunteer labor, and getting everyone out into the rice fields, it appears, wasn’t adaquately doing the trick.

And by going on extended comparisons of the South Korean press conference with the alleged torpedo to Colin Powell’s “anthrax” presentation at the UN in 2003, the North Koreans find another effective lever of argumentation with a population that is rather well informed, and often reminded, of the American path to war in Iraq.  Don’t expect Fox News to report on that little angle, however.

In sum, clearly the DPRK is interesting in heightening the sense of anxiety abroad, and doing so, perhaps, if Scott Snyder’s work is to be trusted (and it usually is), with an eye to strengthening what will inevitably become a drive for negotiations.

Finally, if you’re still in need of data (and what is this blog for, if not to satiate that need for data synthesis? you wouldn’t seriously come here to listen to music, would you?), meditate on these 1950 photos of the Korean People’s Army (via Huanqiu Shibao’s history page) or get eyes on my  KCNA (North Korean news) digests on my burgeoning tool for rapid reading, the Sinologisitical Violoncellist Twitter feed (see in particular entries on May 25, May 27, and June 2).

The KPA creep south -- and China continues and accelerates its steady feed of Korean War retrospectives onto the internet -- It's only a matter of time before John Foster Dulles appears at the 38th parallel with his patented binoculars

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