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[Op-Ed] Kim Jong Il’s Lip Service

Posted January. 28, 2009 07:06,   


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held talks Friday with Wang Jiarui, chief of the Chinese Communist Party’s international department. This made many wonder whether Kim is fully ready to appear in public again. The meeting was Kim’s first with a foreign visitor since June 18 last year, when he met Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. North Korea is probably the only country that can sustain itself despite its leader not meeting a foreign visitor for more than seven months. Judging by Kim’s significant hair loss and swollen left hand, intelligence officials say he has probably not completely recovered his health.

In the past, Kim held an event to curry favor with China around Lunar New Year, which might indicate why Kim met Wang despite less than perfect health and even released photos of the meeting. It could be no coincidence that it took place three days after the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. Kim reportedly said, “We are dedicated to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We do not want to see tension in the peninsula,” according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency. This seems more like Kim paying lip service to China and the United States, however.

North Korea has also accused South Korea of making military provocations on land, air and sea since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration. A spokesman for the (North) Korean People’s Army’s General Staff appeared on the North’s Korean Central News Agency in a military uniform Jan. 17. He threatened the South, saying, “Our army will assume an all-out confrontational posture against South Korea.” Pyongyang has also heightened tension by conducting a strengthened version of an evacuation drill. In a statement released Jan. 13, a spokesman for the North’s Foreign Ministry demanded normalization of Pyongyang-Washington relations before resolving the nuclear issue, ignoring what was agreed on the six-party talks. This is in stark contrast to Kim’s claim that he does not want tension.

North Korea went ahead with nuclear development, breaking the 1992 inter-Korean joint declaration of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. It has resisted nuclear disablement. Against this backdrop, Kim’s claim that the North is dedicated to the denuclearization of the peninsula hardly holds any truth. A month before her retirement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who dealt with North Korea for a long time for the Bush administration, said Dec. 17, “No one trusts North Korea. You’d have to be an idiot to trust the North Koreans.” If Kim believes that he can mislead the new Obama administration with empty talk devoid of action, he is clearly mistaken.

Editorial Writer Kwon Soon-taek (maypole@donga.com)