By Max S. Kim*
North Korea Comes to a Dead End
North Korea is faced with the worst internal and external crisis since its inception.
The US-led economic sanctions have almost dried up the regime’s financial resources; North Korea’s wintertime military drills came to a halt for lack of fuel; and closure of the entire border to stop the spreading of the deadly coronavirus from China has skyrocketed food prices in Pyongyang (by 60% just within days) and depleted the already struggling markets of supplies.
Bad news goes on. North Korea’s diplomats abroad were summoned to Pyongyang on charges of espionage and coups, including Kim Pyong Il (Kim Il Sung’s son and a half-brother of Kim Jong Il’s); and senior and high-ranking officials at home defected with top-class security documents in possession or were arrested in attempts of defection. For the western onlookers, surely, the rumor of heart surgery on the regime’s 36-year-old dictator is the icing on the cake.
How will the Kim regime survive the ordeal? What options and strategies remain on their table?
Kim Jong Un paid a price for the lesson he learned that Donald Trump is resolute and, unlike his predecessors, can neither be coerced with aggressions and provocations (i.e. Kim was called out to their first summit in Singapore) nor can be deceived with fake concessions (hence, Kim’s consternation at their second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam).
The regime reeled back from dealing directly with the Trump administration. A recent shakeup in the Foreign Ministry Department ended in disarray having Ri Son Kwon brought in as new Foreign Minister. Ri’s emergence is indicative of the regime’s retraction of the diplomatic line since he speaks no English and knows no diplomacy. So, why would anyone want to waste time talking to this “deaf and dumb” guy? The message then is clear: North Korea wants to steer away from denuclearization talks and will not give up its nuclear arsenal, at least for now.
Will the US sit back and wait until Kim changes his mind? Not a chance. Three US aircraft carriers have been sent near the Korean Peninsula keeping unprecedented military pressure on the regime. Kim does not understand that nuclear missiles do not keep him safe but only cause his regime to put its head in a noose. Significantly, Trump had no mention of North Korea in his State of the Union address this year, which may implicate that the US has other plans under way.
North Korea Gambles on Inter-Korean Coalition Government
But “Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting” (Richard M. Nixon). Evidently, Kim Jong Un has his eyes on plotting with his “loyal comrade” in the South Korean presidential palace.
When North Korea was faced with an economic collapse in the 1990’s, Kim Jong Il turned to his best friend in Seoul (or his asset, if you will). South Korean President Kim Dae-jung came to his rescue and propped up the faltering North Korean regime with massive financial resources of the South; Kim Dae-jung stood behind the North Korean regime and lied to the world that “North Korea has never developed nuclear weapons nor has any capability to do so…Should North Korea ever have a nuclear weapon, I will take full responsibility.”
North Korea now has a full line of nuclear missiles, and South Korea’s Socialist government led by Moon Jae-in can’t wait to help out the North Korean regime. There won’t be a better time for an inter-Korean coalition government they have long pushed for. But the critical first step is to amend the existing South Korean constitution with Communist elements and values and to line it up with the North Korean constitution.
Apparently, North Korea already ordered its agents and assets in South Korea and abroad to interfere with South Korea’s 2020 general election, to be held on April 15, and to fully assist Moon Jae-in toward forming an inter-Korean coalition cabinet. Until then, North Korea is presumed to refrain from military provocations.
For North Korea, this will be an all-in bet as well as an all-out fight as Kim has few options. But this surely is gambling with little chance of success and is a suicidal move, because Trump has vowed to put an end to Socialism and Communism and will not sit and watch South Korea become another Venezuela. For the US, the would-be Socialist coalition government of the two Koreas is a far greater threat to the American interests than North Korea’s nuclear missiles are.
Ideological Strife Hurts South Korea
This will be a challenge that most South Koreans who want to defend their constitutional rights have to meet head on. This inter-Korean plot will throw South Korea into a fierce fight between the right and the left and is feared to turn the whole nation upside down.
Socialist politicians in Seoul, emboldened by their majority in the National Assembly, have begun their campaign for transference of private ownership of land to the government and passed a legislation, effective in July, which will give an ad hoc national committee jurisdictive power over the court and constitution. Plainly, these bills are unconstitutional taking away freedom and giving up the rule of law.
In South Korea, signs of struggle are everywhere, although the right-wing conservatives have managed their protests and gatherings in peaceful and civilized manners, which impressed the world and the western media already. But without a doubt, the interference and support from China’s Communist Party served as the catalyst promoting the political strife that the left started off against the right in South Korea, and it will continue after the general election.
If the Socialists win and amend the South’s constitution, the right-wing conservatives will form nationwide resistance and fight; if Moon Jae-in and his cabal believe the Socialists will lose and fail to be the majority in the National Assembly, they may delay the legislative election or may come up with other radical ways to fulfil their agendas (e.g. bloody and armed civil riots backed by North Korea such as the Gwangju incident in May 1980). Either way, the nation may be engulfed in flames of political dissidence and ideological strife.
April 15 is the biggest holiday in North Korea, named the Day of the Sun, in celebration of its founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Is it a coincidence that the South Korean government chose April 15 for the general election (instead of April 8, the second Wednesday of April this year)?
However, the Moon administration has fatal vulnerability, for the impeachment of then-President Park Geun-hye was a procedurally flawed extrajudicial decision. It was unconstitutional and South Korea’s Constitutional Court had no legal authority to fire a sitting president. Park must be reinstated and is entitled to her remaining term; accordingly, the 2017 presidential election by which Moon Jae-in became her successor must be voided.
The unconstitutionality of Park’s impeachment is an extremely sensitive and important issue. But South Korea’s mainstream media remain silent because they trumpeted the unproven allegations to oust her. The constitution not only upholds the national identity of South Korea, it serves as the lighthouse that provides a critical navigational aid for the ongoing ideological fight. It comes as a surprise that nearly all South Korean politicians moved away from this fundamental issue.
One day, I hope, President Trump will denounce Moon Jae-in as an unconstitutionally elected, disqualified president, as he did for Venezuela in his State of the Union address.
The political fight, surrounding the left’s attempt to alter the South Korean constitution after North Korea’s Socialist constitution and the right’s resistance to block it and defend freedoms, will undoubtedly shake South Korea from the feet up.
But I predict that, ultimately, the Socialists will be defeated and the oppressed, starving 25 million people in North Korea will also be freed. Truth wins. I hope that this ideological fight will teach younger Koreans an important lesson and make them stronger and more mature.
The North Korean regime will have their three main strategies tested and will run out of options. North Korea cannot win by engaging the Americans in military conflict (i.e. military option); nor can the Totalitarian Kim regime be saved by diplomatic efforts (i.e. diplomatic option); and the regime’s plot to politically annex South Korea will meet fierce resistance and is doomed to fail (i.e. operational option). The 70-year stand-off will end with Kim Jong Un removed (i.e. exiled or silenced) and North Korea opening its door to the Americans.
The gathering clouds, hopefully, will turn light and thin, then send down soothing rain, enough to wipe the tears from the eyes of 25 million North Koreans. I do believe spring will return to the stolen and forgotten land. The young Americans who gave their lives during the Korean War and were buried in the unknown land will finally be brought home and rest in peace. I am waiting for the day with hat in hand.
*Max S. Kim received his PhD in cognitive science from Brandeis University and taught at the University of Washington and the State University of New York at Albany. Besides his own field of profession, he occasionally writes on regional affairs of the East Asia, including the two Koreas.