Rafael Bueno discusses how the great leap forward taken by Kim Jong Il‘s North Korean regime is unlikely to have a happy ending. Using the presence of a foreign threat to secure the absolute obedience of the people, the nuclear test carried out in the province of Hwadaeri will change geopolitics in Asia forever. As Pyongyang just entered the select military nuclear club, bad times are ahead for the Korean peninsula.
Rafael Bueno is the Director of Conferences, Seminars, Studies, and West-East Dialogue at the Asia House. He is a professor of the Asian Model in the Master’s program of International Relations and Communication at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. The following article is strictly a personal piece of work.
SINCE NORTH KOREA’S NUCLEAR TEST, carried out in the province of Hwadaeri, a new geopolitical scenario has arisen in Asia.
The threats of the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang did not take long to become real; however, no one predicted they would come to fruition so soon.
With its underground test, North Korea has become the fifth Asian country, counting Russia, to enter into the select military nuclear club, the eighth in the world if you don’t count Israel. For one of the poorest and most militarized states in the world, going nuclear must be a real privilege.
HOW TO STAY IN POWER
The North Korean Leader, Kim Jong Il, (for reasons still unknown) decided to accelerate his nuclear program, not only with the objective to have enough missiles capable of reaching Japan but also to the United States.
Pyongyang has been working on these illicit activities for years, relying on contraband and the exportation of missiles to pull forward an economy enveloped in chaos. Very slowly, North Korea has begun to recover. As a US functionary said, the North Koreans did not design those long-range missiles to fill them with candy. They designed them to be fitted with nuclear warheads in order to ensure the survival of a regime that is uncertain how much longer it can stay in power.
During the month of October, the anniversary of the Korean Worker’s Party will be celebrated. October 1st is also a national day of celebration in China for the proclamation of the People’s Republic. Despite their alliance, the communist party in China has taken a very different path from the one in North Korea
If North Korea has nuclearized the Korean peninsula in a fight for its own survival, China has entered into a phase of capitalism that has transformed the Communist party into a Socialist one with Chinese characteristics, leaving only the faintest trace of a Maoist past.
Now China will have to decide, alongside the United States, what actions to take towards a neighbor that has already passed the threshold and will not turn back.
NORTH KOREA’S GREAT LEAP FORWARD
In 1994, the Clinton Administration – through the KEDO program, and the financial support of South Korea, Japan, and the EU – had the opportunity to develop a nuclear program in North Korea with two light water reactors that could only be used for civil purposes. At that time, nobody believed that the regime in Pyongyang would survive.
Now, more than a decade later, with a nuclear program a hundred times more advanced, it will be hard to convince Kim Jong Il to bring his great leap forward to a happy ending.
For a people that have suffered foreign attacks and interior aggressions for years, the presence of an exterior threat is the only thing that continues to command their absolute obedience.
It is possible that Chinese patience towards its ally is wearing thin. But it is unclear whether taking the opposite approach, as Washington has done, has had any effect on bringing this important issue to a successful forum of multilateral negotiations.
What is certain now, however, is that the Korean peninsula will not go back to life as it was under Joseon (the dynasty that lasted from 1392-1910) when Korea was called the land of the tranquil morning. It is more likely to assume the complete opposite.