North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership


US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped in to Seoul, to meet with and provide a US show of support for ROK President Lee Myung-bak, and South Korea, following the conclusion of the Cheonan investigation, and recent regional teeth-gnashing by the two Koreas.  Lee Chi-dong reports for Yonhap:

Clinton met with the president during her brief stop in Seoul after arriving from Beijing as tensions run high on the peninsula after Seoul accused the North last week of sinking its 1,200-ton patrol ship March 26, killing 46 sailors. A team of multinational investigators said the ship was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine that sneaked into the South’s waters.

In her 50-minute meeting with Lee, Clinton was quoted as saying her trip here was intended to show Washington’s “clear and unmistakable support” for Seoul as an ally, according to the aides.

Clinton agreed with Lee that “strategic patience” is necessary, the senior secretary said in a press briefing.

She also expressed support for South Korea’s “balanced and prudent response from a long-term perspective,” he said.

Lee and Clinton did not confine the patience approach to just the sunken ship only, but also applied it to the overall situation involving North Korea. “I think they were pointing out that time is on our side,” he said.

Korea Herald reports further about the Clinton-Lee joint appearance.  During their appearance, President Lee remarked that China, which maintains its neutral position, “cannot ignore the truth.”

“We believe that this is in everyone’s interest including China’s to make a persuasive case for North Korea to change direction,” she said in a joint press conference with Yu.

In the long term, Clinton said, such measures would give North Korea an opportunity to “look internally to what they can do to improve the standing of their own people and provide a different future.”

She added that her recent consultations with China showed that Beijing understands the seriousness of the Cheonan issue.

Yu said while it would take more time to persuade China and Russia — both nations enjoying close relations with Pyongyang — the truth will speak for itself.

“They cannot ignore the truth,” he said.

As Pyongyang’s closest ally, China has so far maintained a neutral stance regarding the sinking and ensuing investigation.

It received last week’s probe results with no particular comment, saying only that Beijing wants to sustain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

China’s vote will be critical in pursuing a U.N. resolution against North Korea because it stands as a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council.

Clinton arrived in Seoul earlier in the day after wrapping up a trip to Japan and China.

Jung Sung-ki writes in Korea Times about the road ahead at the UNSC:

She stressed the international community has an obligation to respond to the attack on the Cheonan and promised to put forward the matter in the U.N. Security Council (UNSC).

China and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC, remain neutral over the findings of the Joint Military-Civil Investigation Group that included 24 foreign experts from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Canada.

China’s role, in particular, would be decisive in taking action against North Korea at the UNSC because it is the North’s primary source of economic and military aid.

Clinton said China “understands the seriousness” of this issue and is willing to listen to the concerns expressed both by South Korea and the United States.

Despite Secretary Clinton’s visit to Beijing, as well Cabinet- and diplorep-level interactions between the ROK and PRC, China is maintaining its neutral stance.  Xinhua English reports:

“China considers that international and regional matters should be handled in an objective and fair manner and based on facts,” said Jiang.

“Under current circumstance, any measure taken by any side should be conducive to peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, not to the contrary,” she said.

Jiang said China has always been committed to maintaining stability in Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula, promoting the six-party talks and denuclearization of the Peninsula.

“It is better to have dialogue rather than engaging in confrontation, and an eased situation is better than tension,” she said.

To safeguard peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia is in the common interests of all parties and is a shared responsibility of all countries in the region.

“China is resolutely against any behavior which is in violation of peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” she said.

Barbara Demick writes in the LA Times:

The Chinese already have signaled their reluctance to punish North Korea, infuriating both the South Koreans and the Americans.

“It is disgusting the way the Chinese just sit on their hands and do nothing. This backward and clumsy behavior is not fitting their supposed place as the predominant power in Asia,” said Victor Cha, a former National Security Council Asia director who now is at a Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China’s cooperation is important because it can block or water down any U.N. resolution by virtue of its permanent seat on the Security Council and because almost everything North Korea imports or exports has to cross China’s borders.

North Korea shows no signs of flinching in what is increasingly a battle of nerves with South Korea.

Pyongyang issued a flurry of threats during the day. It accused South Korea of dispatching “dozens” of warships across the maritime border and said that it would “put into force practical military measures to defend its waters.”

Choe Sang-hun and Mark Ladler write on the Clinton trip in the NYT/IHT:

She acknowledged a complicated task facing Washington and Seoul when she said the allies have to work on two tracks simultaneously. She spoke of the “immediate crisis” of the sinking that “requires a strong but measured response” and of a “longer-term challenge of changing the direction of North Korea, making a convincing case to everyone in the region to work together to achieve that outcome, denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and offering the opportunities for a better life for the people of the North.”

North Korea has denied any role in the sinking of the ship and the loss of 46 South Korean sailors.

She also endorsed President Lee’s “right approach” in trying to avoiding “escalation and a broader conflict” while seeking international support to punish the North.

“The key word” during the South Korean leaders’ meetings with Mrs. Clinton was her strategy of “strategic patience,” said Lee Dong-kwan, President Lee’s spokesman.

Chosun Ilbo writes that recent events are creating the cultural conditions of  a “new Cold War”:

As soon as Seoul stepped up pressure, the North started a campaign of military brinkmanship, saying Monday it will aim and fire at loudspeakers broadcasting propaganda messages across the demilitarized zone. Experts say North Korea may seek to damage the South Korean economy by heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula through minor clashes along the heavily armed border or along the maritime buffer zone in the West Sea. The government is tasked with maintaining peace and security on the peninsula by containing any threat of North Korea aggression.

The new Cold War triggered by the North Korean torpedo attack has ramifications beyond inter-Korean relations. China would come under tremendous pressure if U.S. aircraft carriers converge on the West Sea for joint military exercises with South Korea while the two allies conduct maritime blockade drills. The torpedo has shattered the shared foundation that the U.S. and China had built up through the six-party nuclear talks. If Beijing-Washington relations sour, both North and South Korea stand to suffer the most.

A deteriorating security situation would inevitably lead to economic damage. The North Korean economy will suffer the heaviest blow since its overseas assets were frozen in 2005 through more UN Security Council sanctions plus U.S. financial sanctions on top of severed trade with South Korea. But the South Korean economy will suffer as well.

Without wishing to sound flip, the Cold War never ended in NE Asia.  Dr. Sheila Miyoshi Jager wrote in a brilliant 2007 monograph for the US Army War College:

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to sustained efforts to rediscover and rewrite the past which, in East Asia, has included both the history of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), the Chinese Civil War (1945-49), and the Korean War (1950-53). Unlike in Europe, however, the Cold War has not ended in Asia.

An affiliate of 38 North