December 3, 2010


Korean crisis, future dissected

Given what’s happening on the Korean peninsula, Jung-Hoon Lee’s talk on Nov. 30 ''couldn't have been more timely.”

The Nov. 23 shelling by North Korea of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island resulted in deaths, destruction of property and a panicked civilian population.

“What marks the Yeonpyeong bombing as extraordinary is it’s the first time since the Korean War that North Korea has actually attacked South Korea soil,” said Lee, professor of international relations at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies.

Lee’s talk on “What’s Happening in North Korea” was part of the Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning Speaker Series. Other sponsors were the Korean Studies Program and Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures program. 

Will North Korea’s brinkmanship escalate into war? Lee asked.

“North Korea’s interest is not war; it's regime survival,” he said. “There’s definitely a link between the succession [from current leader Kim Jong-Il to his son, Kim Jong-Un] and this provocation. Whenever there is a major succession, some sorts of provocations are needed to galvanize the society or provide justification for the purging that will follow the succession.”

As to why China turns a blind eye to North Korea’s nuclear program, Lee said, “If China really made up its mind to apply pressure on North Korea to convince them to change their behavior, I think it could.”

China isn’t doing that because it still has a “Cold War mentality. And [North Korea] is an effective buffer against American encirclement,” he said.

“China could be doing a lot more to crack down on illicit trafficking of nuclear materials with partners Syria and Iran.”

North Korea can “probably not be persuaded to give up its nuclear weapons. They’re in it for long haul,” said Lee, noting that the country “is bent on becoming a nuclear state like India and Pakistan.” 

The future for the Six-Party Talks — which began in 2003, with North and South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States to get North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program — is “not very good. All efforts have been exhausted,” Lee believes.

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