SEOUL — The insistence of a pair of brothers on scattering hundreds of thousands of leaflets from balloons fired over North Korea confronts the South with tough questions.
Is it worth upsetting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his sister, Kim Yo-jong, knowing the negative effects the leaflets are having on North-South rapprochement? For sure, Kim is not going to agree on denuclearization, but how about just returning to talks?
Or, as the leafleteers keep saying, don’t they have the right to spread real news to North Koreans who otherwise might not know about the evil deeds perpetrated by Kim in his desperate desire to ensure his sway over his kingdom?
Park Sang-hak, the older of the brothers, both of whom defected to the South 20 years ago, believes in telling ordinary North Koreans what they otherwise would not have known and would have believed unimaginable, that Kim ordered the murder of his older half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, at the airport in Kuala Lumpur by two young women who thought they were carrying out a harmless prank.
Hundreds of thousands of those leaflets show Jong-nam sprawling on a lounge chair, dying from a VX nerve agent.
Actually, the answer to the first question is pretty simple. Just about anyone who has followed the ups and downs of dealing with North Korea knows the Kim dynasty is not going to make significant concessions no matter what.
There is no way North Korea is about to give up its nuclear program, including the missiles needed to send those warheads to distant targets, unless forced. Since nobody wants to risk Korean War II, likely to result in more deaths than the 3 million to 4 million killed in the first Korean War, North Korea is free to go right on developing nukes and missiles.
There may, however, be one good reason why Kim, or Kim and Kim, brother and sister, might back down a little. Their rule has been compromised by COVID-19.
True, North Korea still denies any of its highly fortunate citizens have caught the disease, but warnings from Kim Jong-un and his state media belie that claim.
It may be for that reason that Kim, the brother, decided on “no military action” against the South after Kim, the sister, came out with nasty remarks about the “traitors” and “mongrels” responsible for showering the North with all those leaflets.
It’s not clear which Kim ordered the destruction of the liaison office in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, inside their own country just above the truce village of Panmunjeom, but between them they must have agreed on blowing it up in one headline-grabbing blast.
Right now, Kim and Kim are getting what they wanted from South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. He’s anxious for talks to resume, and he’s appointed key figures who might be the ones to make that happen.
Park Jie-won, an old-time top politico nominated as director of the National Intelligence Service, harks back to the origins of the Sunshine Policy of the late President Kim Dae-jung.
Park played a vital role in arranging the first inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in June 2000 between Dae-jung and the late Kim Jong-il, father of Kim Jong-un, after the transfer of at least $450 million to North Korean coffers. Park has met most of the players around Kim Jong-un. He of all people should know how to make a new deal that might result in resumption of dialog.
But at what price, and what result? When Kim Dae-jung went to Pyongyang for the summit, North Korea was years from testing a nuclear warhead. Denuclearization was not yet on the table as an issue.
The gift of a few hundred million dollars might not seem too absurd a price to pay for everlasting peace, but funds sent to the North are sure to aid and abet the North’s nuclear program, which exploded into the open with the North’s first nuclear test in 2006.
The North by now has conducted six such tests, the last four ordered by Kim Jong-un, most recently in September 2017.
Deals with the North have a way of disintegrating rapidly.
High hopes engendered by summits soon sink into disillusionment. While Moon and his aides persist in courting the North, the Park brothers should go on firing their balloons.
Kim and Kim may not like it, but yielding to intimidation never works. Better to shower the North Koreans with leaflets, letting them know what their leaders are up to, than to shield them from the dynasty’s cruel history.