The October number of Le Monde diplomatique (Paris) features a front-page article, translated below, reviewing the international crisis brewing with North Korea by Ignacio Ramonet, the 63-year-old former student of Roland Barthes who for the past fifteen years has been at the helm of the altermondialist monthly. -- Ramonet's piece was inspired by a exclusive interview granted by 2000 Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-Jung, the former president of South Korea. -- In the interview, conducted on Sept. 14, Kim Dae-Jung warned against neoconservative influence on U.S. foreign policy: "American neoconservatives do not want peace in this region. They're dogmatists. They're not defending United States interests, the way President Clinton did by supporting our efforts to achieve a peaceful dialogue, but remain obsessed with an ideology: that of sanctions, which have never worked, neither against Cuba, nor against Iraq, nor against Afghanistan, nor against Iran. They're pressuring Tokyo also to impose sanctions, [Note: On Sept. 19, 2006, Tokyo adopted new financial sanctions against Pyongyang. They freeze de facto transfers of funds to North Korea by North Koreans in Japan (about 300,000 people)] which is worsening regional misunderstandings. These in their turn then serve as a pretext for the Japanese right to demand Japan's rearmament. Which increases China's distrust. It's a very dangerous spiral." ...
[Translated from Le Monde diplomatique (Paris)]
TENSIONS IN KOREA
By Ignacio Ramonet
Le Monde diplomatique
After North Korea's launch of seven missiles last July 5, the situation has taken a sharp turn for the worse on the Korean peninsula despite repeated warnings from Washington and Tokyo. While not violating international law, these test firings -- including one of the Taepodong-2 missile, theoretically capable of reaching the United States, but which, along with the six others, fell into the Sea of Japan -- are to be condemned, because they destabilize northeast Asia, potentially one of the world's most dangerous regions.
Yet it was one year ago, on Sept. 19, 2005, that Pyongyang committed itself to abandoning its military nuclear program. Adopted in the framework of six-party negotiations (China, North Korea, South Korea, United States, Japan, Russia), this decision raised great hopes, especially in South Korea.
Since the reestablishment of democracy in the 1990s, Seoul has made improving relations with its northern neighbor a priority. The visit to Pyongyang of then-president of South Korea Kim Dae-Jung and the signing on Jun. 15, 2000, of a joint declaration with his North Korean counterpart, Mr. Kim Jong-Il, constituted a turning point in inter-Korean relations.
South Korean authorities are betting on dialogue and exchanges, especially economic ones, and on the development of common interests to reduce the disparities between the two countries, prevent conflicts, and prepare an eventual reunification. Since then, total commercial exchanges have reached $1 billion, with South Korea becoming, after China, Pyongyang's second economic partner. North of the 38th parallel, a special economic zone has been created in Kaesong, where South Korean businesses employing some 8,000 North Korean employees have established themselves. Despite persistent obstacles, the two parties are also working on reopening the Seoul-Pyongyang rail link, which would enable South Korea to cease to be an enclave.
The situation very quickly degraded after the Sept. 19, 2005, when the U.S. Treasury adopted financial measures against Pyongyang on the pretext that a bank in Macao (China), Banco Delta Asia, allegedly laundered money in North Korea's account. No international inquiry has demonstrated this to be true. Intimidated by Washington, last February the bank froze $24 million in North Korean funds. Pyongyang then slammed the door on the six-party negotiations, reaffirming its right to possess nuclear weapons, and proceeded with the Jul. 5 test firing, which was condemned by the United Nations Security Council, which includes China.
According to North Korea, the United States government is not seeking a diplomatic solution, but rather is pursuing a single objective: regime change. In South Korea, some in the government share this belief.
At a meeting last Sept. 14 in his Seoul residence, former President Kim Dae-Jung, architect of reconciliation with North Korea and winner of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, condemned the missile firings but expressed the view that Washington is doing nothing to calm things down: "American neoconservatives do not want peace in this region," he told us. "They're dogmatists. They're not defending United States interests, the way President Clinton did by supporting our efforts to achieve a peaceful dialogue, but remain obsessed with an ideology: that of sanctions, which have never worked, neither against Cuba, nor against Iraq, nor against Afghanistan, nor against Iran. They're also pressuring Tokyo to impose sanctions, [Note 1: On Sept. 19, 2006, Tokyo adopted new financial sanctions against Pyongyang. They freeze de facto transfers of funds to North Korea by North Koreans in Japan (about 300,000 people)] which is worsening regional misunderstandings. These then serve in their turn as the pretext for the Japanese right to demand Japan's rearmament. Which increases China's distrust. It's a very dangerous spiral."
The South Korean president, Mr. Roh Moo-hyun, is not far from embracing this point of view. On the occasion of his conversation at a summit with President George W. Bush in Washington last Sept. 15, Mr. Roh, who has to deal carefully with his great American ally, [Note 2: Seoul counts especially on Washington to support the candidacy of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean foreign minister, for the post of U.N. secretary general, whose election will take place before Dec. 31, 2006] has done a good job on the three issues under discussion between the two countries. He repeated his desire to recover military command in wartime over American troops (30,000 strong) based in Korea; demanded more time for negotiating the (very unpopular) project of a free trade pact with the United States; and, finally, refused to increase South Korean sanctions against North Korea.
In this matter, Seoul does not want to give in to pressures from Washington, and wishes to keep its autonomy of decision. As Mr. Kim Dae-Jung says, "We want neither a reunification by force as in Vietnam, nor a ruinous reunification as in Germany. Let America allow us to follow our own rhythm, a slow and peaceful one, toward a happy reunification."
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/