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Korean gambit


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№ 19(612) from 17.05.18 [“Arguments of the Week”, Alexander Chuikov ]
On June 12, Singapore will host the first ever summit of DPRK and US leaders. The parties, which are still on the verge of a nuclear conflict, have been able to come to the negotiating table. Unless, of course, the unpredictable Donald trump changes his mind.
Perhaps the meeting will be the beginning of the unification of the two Koreas on the principle of “one country – two systems.” And if Russia and China will only welcome such a debut on the Korean Peninsula, then Japan and a number of other South-Eastern “players” will do everything to prevent the process of unification.
What pawns will be sacrificed? What Korean endgame will be formed on the far Eastern chessboard? This and many other questions  newspaper “Arguments of the week” posed to the head of the Department of Korea and Mongolia of the Institute of Oriental studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander VORONTSOV, who worked on both sides of the 38th parallel.

Trigger negotiations

– Alexander Valentinovich, the leaders of the two Koreas Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In so suddenly pulled the trigger of the peace process that stunned the whole world. Was it an inter-Korean dialogue or was some “third force “involved?
– A kaleidoscope of reasons led to such a dynamic peace breakthrough. First: the opposition Democratic Party led by moon Jae-In won the elections in South Korea. One of the most important points of his election program is the restoration of good-neighbourly and constructive relations with Pyongyang. After all, for 10 years of the country’s conservative rule were put on the brink of armed conflict. Second, the DPRK has its own difficulties that need to be solved. Third, the United States has specifically felt the limits of its own military policy. The war is impossible because of the projected unacceptable losses and the response of the northerners to the American continent. The policy of pressure and sanctions has not actually been successful. It is necessary to preserve the face and promote defeat as a victory because of the domestic political situation.
Thus, all parties were interested in the beginning of the peace process. And the moment was chosen very well – the Olympic Games. Both Koreas sought peace and were able to take full advantage of the opportunity.
– You said that losses for the US army in case of armed conflict are unacceptable. But with the allies-Japan and South Korea, as Trump has repeatedly stated last year, the DPRK would “bomb democracy” for a couple of massive raids.
  I didn’t say that. This computer simulation was conducted by us military experts in the mid-90s of the last century, when Bill Clinton gave the order to start a war against the DPRK. Losses among the soldiers of South Korea – up to 500.000. Among the civilian population – 2 million. American losses – from 50 to 100 thousand soldiers and officers. Now the losses would be even greater.
But the possibility of applying the American limited strike based on the concept developed in the Pentagon, called “bloody nose”, was extremely likely. In Pyongyang, they understood this and were ready for a retaliatory strike and, consequently, for the beginning of a full-scale war. In the DPRK Foreign Ministry told me in plain text: “as soon as the Americans will begin to beat us on the nose, we will immediately start to break their spine.”
This scared not only the Southerners, but also Japan, which is ready to fully support the US in the economic strangulation of the DPRK, but not in a large, perhaps, nuclear war. In this case, both Japan and South Korea will be between two lights, in a vice. And they clearly expressed their categorical rejection of the military scenario. Washington felt that if it ignored this position, it would lose forever the two most important allies in the key region of the world.
– That is, they would have cracked the “nose” not only to Pyongyang?
– That’s right. When the Southerners realized that a big war was already knocking on their doors, and it could start against their will, they really were horrified. After all, the response of the North Korean army can guarantee the destruction of 12 million’s Seoul and 23 million’s Seoul agglomeration without even using its nuclear weapons. All this has prompted both Korean sides to act as quickly as possible.
 Sanctions against the bulls
– The American media write that in Pyongyang they were afraid of the aggressive rhetoric of Trump and of the new sanctions. They wrote things like, “the North Koreans again began to eat only grass”. Is this true?
– I was in March of this year in the DPRK and I have not see any serious deterioration in the economic situation yet. Yes, gasoline prices jumped three times due to the decline in oil imports, but food prices, as well as the exchange rate of the North Korean Won, remained the same, and there are no less cars on the streets.
But sanctions are a serious thing, and the Northerners understand it perfectly well. In October last year, they held a special plenary session of the Workers’ Party of Korea which developed specific steps, mechanisms and tools in order to survive in the conditions of long-term sanctions and embargoes. A whole program has been worked out, which is strictly implemented.
For example, the rural hinterland, no matter how cheerless it may sound, maybe due to lack of fuel for tractors, began ploughing again with oxen, like grandfathers and great-grandfathers. But in any case, they will be able to achieve the necessary volume of agricultural production On the other hand, great attention is paid to the development of applied science and technology. Solar panels are being actively introduced, tidal power plants are being developed. So, it’s not all just by the bulls…

Peace to the world, ice cream to the children

– And if in Seoul again conservatives come to power, who are against this rapprochement? Is there a chance to conclude a full-fledged Peace Treaty instead of the 1953 Ceasefire Agreement?
– This was already declared in the inter-Korean agreements of 1991-1992, and at the summit on April 27, 2018, these goals were confirmed. But we must understand that the main player during the Korean War were the US military. And in order to conclude a full-fledged inter-Korean Peace Treaty, it is necessary to sign the same between the DPRK and the United States. After all, there is no signature of the South under the ceasefire Agreement of 1953 (that is, a temporary ceasefire), which you are talking about. There are only three parties there: American, Chinese and North Korean generals. But the main issue-the issue of war and peace – must be addressed urgently, as long as the US and North Korea are technically still at war.
– Is it possible in the foreseeable future, the real unification of North Korea and South Korea on the principle of “one country, two systems”? If this happens, who will be the leader and who will be the follower? In the relatively recent past, West Germany had simply “swallowed” the GDR, but the difficulties in the relationship between East and West Germans have only increased.
-In the foreseeable future, in my opinion, such a task is not on the agenda. Although both sides talk about it and develop the concept of unification. By the way, the principle of “one country – two systems” was proposed by the Northerners under
Kim Il-sung under the name “Confederative Republic of Koryo”. Its essence is (in contrast to the unification of the FRG and GDR) to initially creat a supranational government, but to retain its different political and economic system. And gradually there will be a rapprochement of systems and people, and not an absorption, like in the German option.
By the way, back in 1995, the conservative South Korean elite, which was inspired by the German version and recognizes only the principle of “North Korea should be absorbed”, calculated how much it will cost to create one large “democratic South Korea”. And they cried bitter tears: it will cost tens of trillions of dollars! Whether the young and middle aged generation of the South is ready to pay such money out of their pockets is a rhetorical question. If any government is going to propose such a thing, the voters will just not understand.
South Korean President, Nobel peace prize laureate Kim Dae-Jung said:” We do not need unification now, we do not need the collapse of the DPRK, we do not need war, we need gradual rapprochement through economic integration.”
– Very similar to the words of Peter Stolypin: “Give me ten years of peace, and you do not recognize Russia»…
– Exactly. The democrats launched the process of this very integration. The Kaesong industrial Park was founded and successfully operated. More than 130 joint ventures, about 150 thousand North Korean workers, several thousand South Korean managers. The conservatives, having come to power, curtailed its work. Under the democrats more than 2 million Southerners have visited significant for all Koreans beautiful Diamond mountains (Kumgansan), the ancient capital Kaesong, located just North of the 38th parallel. The program was also curtailed by conservatives.
They also tried to crush the North Korean economy. Somehow it did not work, and in spite of everything it is constantly growing, by 3-4% of GDP per year. Plus the Northerners were able to forge their own nuclear missile shield. Now, of course, taking advantage of a good moment, it is necessary to solve the problem of war and peace and to come closer through economic integration. And who will be leading and who will be led, let the Koreans sort it out themselves.

A witch from Tokyo

         Tokyo is extremely afraid of these prospects. Sources in the Russian foreign Ministry say that at the meetings of Abe and Putin, the Japanese side, in addition to ritual spells about the return of the Northern territories, always asks Moscow to assist in the process of “non-rapproachment” of Pyongyang and Seoul. They say that the dangers for Japan are growing along with the settlement of those inter-Korean contradictions. What is the reason for such panic in Tokyo?
        Historical past. In 1910, Korea was completely annexed by the Japanese. In fact, until 1945, when Soviet troops with their fierce fighting liberated the Northern part of the Peninsula, and American troops landed in its southern part on September 8, the Koreans fully tasted the bitterness of colonial dependence. They were forcibly assimilated, independence supporters were imprisoned, tortured and killed, young people were taken to Japan for hard work, and more than two hundred thousand women were driven into Japanese military brothels. The number of victims is estimated by Korean experts at 6-8 million people. After the surrender, Tokyo apologized only to Seoul. no one apologized to the Northerners. 35 years of colonial dependence did not pass without a trace. Both Koreas still cannot forgive Japan’s national insults. And in Tokyo they have reason to fear revenge.
– Yeah, the breakthrough technologies of the South, coupled with obstinacy and nuclear defence capabilities of the North, what a “gift” it would be for them!
– The United Korean “monster” can really become a very serious economic and military competitor, with 75-million population, in the entire Far East. By the way, Japanese colleagues openlyexpress such concerns at international conferences.
But Tokyo is unlikely to be able to force us to play by its rules. Russia needs peace and stability on its borders, as projects are being developed to unite the railways of the North and South, with access to the Trans-Siberian railway. There is a need to lay a gas pipeline and electricity networks to South Korea through the DPRK. The joint Russian-North Korean terminal in the city-port of Raijin, where we have conducted a railway, has been launched. We have invested almost 9.5 billion roubles in it. Such investments should be “fought for”.
Intelligent agents Chip and Dale fly to the rescue
– Back to the probable meeting of our Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Positions are clear. Washington demands from the DPRK to stop all tests related to the North Korean nuclear missile program. Until the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. At the same time, they are not talking about the withdrawal of US troops (and possibly tactical nuclear weapons) from South Korea.
– The starting positions of the parties before the summit look, to put it mildly, incompatible. The US assured itself that its policy of pressure and sanctions has worked. Therefore, it should be continued, to press the DPRK up to the end. Like, “you destroy your nuclear missile potential, and then we will think about what security guarantees we can provideyou”. They hope in vain that the Northerners will fall on their knees and come crawling to surrender.
But Pyongyang’s position is becoming more flexible. Even in the winter the DPRK stated that its nuclear weapons can not even be the subject of bargaining. But already in March, they proposed a formula that ” we agree to negotiations, in which each of the parties can raise any issues.” But agreeing to discuss does not mean agreeing to do so. Northerners, in my opinion, will lead fierce bargaining in the upcoming talks, in the classic diplomatic pattern: “I’ll give you something if you will give something to me.”
-I was told, by the way, that this preparation for the meeting of Trump and
Kim Jong Un is going not through traditional diplomatic channels.
– Yes, the DPRK Foreign Ministry and the US State Department play the secondary role. In  the primary roles are the intelligence agencies of America, North and South Korea. In early March, the head of South Korean intelligence and national security adviser arrived in Pyongyang. After talks in the Northern capital, they flew to Washington to Trump with Kim Jong-Un’s proposal for a bilateral meeting. Trump, despite the protests of his entourage, immediately accepted the invitation. As it turned out, all this “chess playing” was prepared on the initiative of the CIA.
Then Mike Pompeo (first in the status of  the CIA Director, and then as a Secretary of state) met twice with Kim Jong Un on his territory. What they talked about, in addition to officially voiced versions, is difficult to say. It seems to me (the Northerners used to voice such positions, but now they are silent, which does not mean that they have forgotten about them) that the DPRK is ready to denuclearize and to destroy its few Intercontinental ballistic carriers, but only under certain conditions. Firstly, the US should withdraw all its troops from South Korea and sign commitments not to deploy them in the future. Secondly, to allow international and North Korean experts access to existing US military bases in the South, to verify the presence or absence of tactical nuclear weapons. Thirdly, to stop all joint military exercises with Seoul and not to send air groups with nuclear weapons to the borders of the DPRK. Will the parties be able to find a compromise? It is not yet clear. But both leaders need a meeting for domestic political reasons. They can even sign a joint Declaration of intent. Then to move on later.
By the way, what we are witnessing now is actually a three – stage Russian plan for normalization. The first stage, which is already being implemented, is a sharp decline in military activity and the transition to dialogue. Then step-by-step, or phased (as they say in the US), the movement towards the goal.
-The whole world has seen a vivid example of  the value of any treaty signed by the US on the example of Iran. Barack Obama made a “vigorous” deal with Tehran, Trump broke it. Is there a secret card up Kim Jong Un’s sleeve in this case?
– They have their own sad experience. Clinton initially ordered a war with North Korea, but after calculating his potential losses, he had to conclude a framework agreement in 1994 and to promise to build two light-water reactors in exchange for freezing the North Korean reactor. Then Bush Jr. came and broke off all these agreements. But you are right, in the DPRK, the Iranian theme is being very closely watched and notes are being taken. They also remember in Pyongyang the fate of Gaddafi. But they probably have a card up their sleeve. But when they will pulls it out and what kind of a card is it, is a mystery. Americans are even more concerned about Intercontinental missiles than about nuclear weapons. That’s where the Northeners can have their playing field.
– The main thing in the weaponry is to gain experience in their production. And experience, as we know, you can never lose!
– Yes, it is always possible to restore production.
-We, the Russian people, have such a character trait – we all stand shoulder to shoulder as one in front of an external threat. In ordinary life we can be fragmented and poorly mobilized. Do North Koreans look like us or does life force them to live constantly alerted, as, for example, in Israel?
-Unfortunately, the people of North Korea and Israel in this sense are very similar. For many years they have been living in conditions of constant readiness for war. Secondly, Korean society is a Confucian society. It is collectivist, because you can survive in such difficult geographical and climatic conditions only together. A father leader must take care of his children. Children-the population – must respond with loyalty and fidelity. Everything should be done together and for the benefit of the whole team.
-This is an analogue of our traditional rural Russian community, which is almost lost. Is collectivism  the main character trait of an ordinary citizen of the DPRK?
– It is one of them. Another one is distrust for foreigners, strangers. But the main ones are; hard work, patience, the ability to be contained with little…

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