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By Ikenna Emewu
The most economically advantaged location or country in the world is North Korea, a country that goes with the misnomer Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
North Korea is bereft of democracy and has never known what it means for a nation to belong to the people.
The tiny Korean Peninsula is a thumb of a landmass jutting downwards from the major arm of the Asian continent called China that fuses in the north with Russia.
Since the 1950s, the Korean Peninsula has not actually known real peace and has been the most troubled part of East Asia. It started boiling with the Korean War, occasioned by the ideological divide that spilled over from the Second World War after Japan, which bullied and oppressed the peninsula as one country, lost steam.
The result was that capitalist and socialist ideologies took root with USSR taking hold of the north and USA the south.
In 1950, when the army of the north crossed what is called the 38th parallel and encroached on the south and overran it, it took the quick intervention of the US to push back the Russian forces. That war, in principle, has not ended till date, as the two sides signed an armistice treaty in 1953 and not an end to hostilities. Over time, Russia ceded its influence on th north to China. While China and the USSR took different roads to prosperity, North Korea’s leadership found more profit in dictatorship while the citizens found more joy and benefit in docility to the extent that they have been totally emasculated by a family that rules them, from father to son, in the past 60 years, and that is what goes by the name of democracy and people’s republic.
Since the armistice, the peninsula has been on edge as North Korea has not known freedom or opulence. It sinks deeper in poverty with every passing day, rises higher in high-handed dictatorship and channels its economic energies, fuelled by exporting coal to China, into accumulation of armament as priority over food and other basic necessities.
By its location, North Korea has no business with poverty. It sits in the middle of the wealthiest economic triangle on earth: China, with world’s densest industrial cluster in Guangdong, to the west, the world’s largest industrial production pool and second biggest economy, Japan, to the east, the famous titan of East Asia that boasts of one of the most advanced societies of the world, and South Korea to the south, an OECD nation and capital exporting state. Seoul, the soul of East Asia’s economy, is the fourth largest urban economy in the world and just over 150 kilometres from the Kaesong armistice zone, the 4km stretch that divides the two Koreas. North Korea’s three neighbours make about 32 per cent of world GDP and 72 per cent of the Asian economy, yet this country in-between, instead of tapping into the benefits of befriending them, roasts in abject poverty, dictatorship and thinks its relevance would come not from making a better world, but making trouble and war.
The relationship between the two Koreas is the haziest. As you fly to Seoul from the China axis, towards exiting the eastern tip of China, the flight trajectory drops sharply to the south into the sky of the Yellow Sea towards Qingdao and just one hour across the sea into Incheon International Airport of Seoul. The reason is to avoid over flight of North Korea, which is a no-go-area due to hostility.
After the war of the brothers, South Korea moved on and created one of the best economies in the world today through the good leadership of Park Chung He, between 1960 and 1979. That was consolidated on by succeeding leaders. China took off the veil of insular existence in 1978 and today it one of the best economies. Japan sustained her pace of advancement. North Korea atrophied.
Today, part of its penchant to spoil for destruction is because it has nothing at stake. It is like the case of a poor neighbour who wants crises as an excuse to burn down the fine, expensive mansion of his wealthy neighbour out of envy.
On March 2, 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed its Resolution 2270 imposing heavy economic sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear missile tests, a follow-up to the earlier UNSC sanctions on the country in 2006, 2009 and 2013, from the days of the father of Kim Jong-un in power. And because China, a major ally of North Korea and member of the UNSC, knows it needs the world more than North Korea, it implemented the sanctions and today, in the latest of moves, China has stopped importing coal from North Korea, cutting off its major source of foreign exchange.
Reasons for NK restiveness
Like an expert on the Korean Peninsula noted in a lecture in Renmin University of China, Beijing, China, last year, the young man in Pyongyang seeks attention to get a bar of candy from the big guy in Washington, then Barack Obama. But the big man doesn’t think the boy’s tantrums are right, and, therefore, ignores him. Today, the big man in Washington, Donald Trump, the tough-talking CEO, doesn’t seem to brook any recalcitrance from Pyongyang and has vowed to roll out the tanks fully. If Trump does, that would be the awry spillover of the failed 1994 US-NK anti-nuclear proliferation treaty that was stillborn. While the deal was in the pipeline, the father of the then dictator, the grandfather of the present ruler, died. According to Korean customs, the leader took out three years to mourn his father within which the treaty was forgotten.
Yet, even if concluded, there might not have been compliance, as North Korea has a tradition of violating agreements, like the US. In 2013, NK unilaterally invalidated the earlier denuclearisation treaties with South Korea, including the one signed in 1991. That withdrawal from the agreement paved the way for North Korea to conduct underground nuclear tests and it later started hurling scud missiles like pebbles in all directions of the sea around it towards mainly Japan and South Korea. North Korea is hardly a member of any union in the world that outlaws nuclear proliferation and, in case of armament, there is the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that regulates its tests and not just hurling them about randomly like kids throwing stones at ripe mangoes the manner Pyongyang does.
One of the major reasons North Korea gets restive with weapons is poverty and bad leadership that is too dictatorial and isolated from the world. North Korea feels unsafe with South Korea and has a phobia that US alliance with the south is damgerous for its safety. Also, dictatorship and family overlordship has become so entrenched in the country that the ruling family feels that letting North Korea have a smooth relationship with the outside world would open the eyes of the citizenry to ask for a freer leadership that would rob them of their god status. So selfishness, holding onto power and hoodwinking the masses have become big factors.
Moreover, the US is a great ally of Japan, which was one reason Japanese leader Shinzo Abe was the first leader to visit Trump after he took office in January.
Moreover, the ideological divide and economic inequality of the two Koreas worsen the problem. Today, North Korea has imbibed the “might is right” dogma and thinks its nuclear strength would help it gain some relevance. But if North Korea had been strategic, it would have understood that what stands its neighbours out is economic clout, which comes before military consolidation. Many informed Chinese citizens would tell you that all that North Korea does is seeking US attention to make advances for some goodies, and the state would say that only the US has an answer to the North Korean nuclear debacle, as the US parries the blame and says that China’s influence on North Korea is enormous and only China can rein in the scampering dictator. So a huge blame game builds up in the Korea Peninsula as the nuclear weapons threaten the peace of the world.
Sure enough, the nuisance value of North Korea has started unsettling its neighbours who have been blackmailed by interests such as human and economic factors to put up with North Korea’s subtle coercion.
In the second week of May last year in Beijing the Triennial Conference of the T3, China, Japan and Korea, meant to discuss their economic benefits, was overshadowed and hijacked by the concern over the North Korean nuclear issue.
China does not want war in North Korea because it would bear the humanitarian brunt, which would affect its economy through refugee pressure from the country of about 22 million people. There would also be uncontrolled arms proliferation in the region if war happens.
Economically, South Korea is one of the greatest allies of China and one of the few countries that has favourable trade balance against China. Japan is like a cultural ally although they have a frosty relationship. But a lot of economics play out in softening any hostility between the T3.
Last month, because of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system Obama had planned to install in South Korea, some South Koreans were mistreated in Beijing, including the destruction of goods in the Lotte Supermaket chain in Beijing owned by South Koreans. People’s Daily of China conducted an opinion sampling of citizens, especially experts, who all condemned the act against South Koreans in China and their investment. The media had reported that even while pressing patriotic zest, it must be in tandem with good international image and advised overzealous Chinese citizens who never acted on state order to change their attitude and never dent China’s reputation.
That THAAD issue became so vexed last year that Beijing felt the US was using it as a ploy to plant security surveillance over the region, as the system was to cover a radius of 2,000km, which overlaps Beijing and some other cities in China. Of course that was as uncomfortable in China as in South Korea where citizens protested and kept vigil over the city of planned location to ensure it did not happen. But today, safeguarding Seoul is a dilemma that must be resolved because Pyongyang wants it destroyed like Cato of Rome wanted Carthage annihilated, and China is very interested in that. As South Korea warms up to its next presidential election on May 9, 2017, China is keen on knowing where the pendulum swings as that would determine the issue of the THAAD. South Korea is an important economic ally that China doesn’t want to lose; it is just one hour away from the important economic hub of Shandong Province by air, and South Koreans are the largest number of foreign nationals in China.
Now, with US acting more towards caging North Korea and China introducing tougher sanctions, it looks like North Korea is getting closer its war bargain in the region.