News

January 9, 1997

NORTH KOREA'S APOLOGY: CAN THE 'HERMIT KINGDOM' CHANGE ITS SPOTS?

North Korea's expression of "regret" proffered at year's end for the incursion of one of its submarines into South Korean waters last September prompted editorialists in Asia and Europe to speculate on North Korean motives for making such an "act of contrition."

Analysts across the board perceived less than altruistic intentions behind the North's "unprecedented" apology. The predominant view in South Korean dailies, best expressed by Seoul's moderate Hankook Ilbo, was that "the North never meant to apologize. The statement is just part of a scheme to advance relations with the United States and Japan." Another South Korean paper drew attention to statements appearing in the North Korean media not long after the apology. Those statements, carried by the official North Korean news agency, KCNA--and which raised eyebrows in many news services--claimed that the South Korean rulers had "abused the submarine incident for...political purposes." KCNA further charged that the South Korean authorities had admitted "their (South Korea's) crime" and had offered "their apology for it, as was demanded by our (North Korea's) side." "The North has reverted to slandering us and to distorting the facts on the submarine case," conservative Chosun Ilbo asserted, adding that, because South Korea is facing an election year, the North would grow "more adamant in refusing dialogue." Editorialists elsewhere in Asia and in Europe were convinced that food shortages in North Korea had prompted its conciliatory statements. London's independent, weekly Economist, which held that "saying sorry is something that politicians, even democratic ones, find almost impossibly hard to do," felt that North Korea's apology heralded a breakthrough in the "diplomatic deadlock that has ensured the continuation of the North's isolation." The liberal Sydney Morning Herald also saw a ray of hope in the North's need to find outside sources of food and energy. Since the U.S. is the "only realistic source of aid," the paper noted, "one of the last bastions of Communism will thus be obliged to face the real world. Once exposed to the outside world, North Koreans will never want a return to the past." The independent Manila Chronicle, however, expressed skepticism that the "Hermit Kingdom" could "change its spots after all these years," concluding that North Korea's "erratic politics stand in the way of sympathizing with its avowals."

Pundits in the South Korean media also turned inward, focusing on the labor unrest that has beset South Korea since December 26, following the passage of new labor legislation during a closed-door session of its parliament. A number of South Korean observers called upon their president to explain why the new legislation was necessary and foresaw "protracted strikes" and possible "economic disaster" if justification for the new laws was not forthcoming.

This survey is based on 18 reports 8 countries, December 31 - January 9.

EDITOR: Kathleen J. Brahney

EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC

NORTH KOREA: "Power-Reeking Behavior Of War Maniacs"

Official news agency KCNA published this view (1/7): "Since the beginning of the new year, the South Korean puppets have been driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to a phase of acute confrontation and war. This was illustrated by the January 4 call of the puppet defense minister Kim Tong Chin and other military top brass at a frontline unit in the central sector of the front to 'examine' the 'winter- time operational preparedness'...and raise outcries over 'provocation' and 'infiltration' from the North. But, with such a clumsy drama, the Kim Young Sam group never conceals its seamy side. These warhawks veiled in civilian garb, while advocating an 'inter-Korean closed-door policy,' are trying to find their way out of their government's crisis by provoking a new war. But, it is a foolish attempt. Now the people and the People's Army in the northern half of Korea are sharpening revolutionary vigilance against the puppet's war moves. If the South Korean war maniacs, bereft of reason, unleash a new war, we will annihilate them at a stroke."

"Puppet's Remarks Full Of Falsity And Deception"

Pyongyang's official KCNA ran this commentary (1/3) under the above headline: "The traitor Kim Young Sam, in his 'new year message'...spoke as if (South Korea) had gained something last year, and cried for removing 'troubles and division between regions, social standings and factions' and for promoting 'harmony.' He had the impudence to say that he hoped for a 'turning-point of reconciliation and cooperation' in the relationship with the northern half of Korea and that 'every possible effort should be made' to achieve peaceful reunification.... (Such statements are) the height of impudence for the traitor who has no idea and way of promoting inter-Korean relations to talk about 'reconciliation' and 'peaceful reunification.' His utterances are no more than a trick to cover up his fascist, bellicose and splittist characters."

"'This Constitutes South Korean Authorities' Admission Of Their Crime..."

Pyongyang radio broadcast (12/31) these statements in Korean by the spokesmen for the Central Committee of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (DFRF) and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF): "'The remains of our People's Army soldiers, who were victimized when they landed on the shore of South Korea when a small submarine belonging to a unit of the Korean People's Army ran aground after drifting in the waters of the East Sea as a result of an accident during a training exercise last September, have been repatriated to our side through DPRK-U.S. negotiations. As a result, the submarine incident, which had affected the situation on the Korean peninsula for nearly four months, has been concluded.... This is a result of the consistent peace-loving efforts of our side....

'The South Korean rulers, who have abused the submarine incident for their political purposes, should be held responsible for the human losses and increased tension.... After we had contact with the U.S. forces in Panmunjong...the remains of our people's army soldiers were repatriated.... Though belated, we feel that this constitutes the South Korean authorities' admission of their crime and their apology for it as was demanded by our side. The South Korean authorities must draw a due lesson from their mishandling of the incident and make sure that such a mishap never happens again within the nation.'"

SOUTH KOREA: "Strike: More Dangerous Than Ever"

Conservative Chosun Ilbo predicted (1/9): "If the strike becomes protracted, the economy will suffer and an economic disaster could ensue. All people involved need to understand the seriousness of the danger we have put ourselves into.

"First, the authorities should be able to explain to the country why the labor law needed revision, and how critical that revision is for improving our competitiveness. If they can't provide these explanations, perhaps they shouldn't have touched the law in the first place. The strikers should also think first of what is in the best interest of the country. The provisions of the law need to be reviewed because it is possible we do not understand its merits. We may be experiencing a crisis that is not really warranted."

"Thread Of Hope Trampled: Open Battle With Government"

Anti-establishment Hankyoreh Shinmun (1/8) commented: "The high expectations that President (Kim Young Sam's) speech would assist in resolving the current unrest have crumbled. The president did not even make a passing comment on the possibility of reopening discussions on the law, nor did he express any regret. The union leadership interprets this as a rejection of all its demands, and predicts that soon a full-scale battle against the government will occur. Characterizing the president's position on this issue as 'deceptive,' the union leadership says it will first secure the people's support for the strike and then spread it further into the society."

"A Strategy To Win Public Support"

Moderate Hankook Ilbo noted (1/8): "The president has made it clear that the government is not considering canceling the law.... The whole labor issue has come down to a battle between the union and the government over who can win the public's support first."

"Northern Apology: Crocodile Tears"

Conservative Chosun Ilbo (1/7) asserted: "Since (North Korea's apology for the submarine incident) the United States and Japan have increased contact with North Korea. Yet there is nothing going on between the two Koreas. Instead, the North has reverted to slandering us and to distorting the facts on the submarine case, saying that we were the ones who apologized. Their apology was not sincere, but only served the purpose of improving relations with the United States and Japan. In other words, North Korea has no intention of joining us in a peaceful resolution of the Korea issue. Because South Korea is facing an election year, the North will grow more adamant in refusing dialogue."

"North Korea's Promise For Peace"

In the view of moderate Hankook Ilbo (12/31): "Now that there has been an apology, the focus is on how much North Korea's attitude toward us will change. We doubt it will. Though the statement came in the form of an apology, we know that the North never meant to apologize. The statement is just part of a scheme to advance relations with the United States and Japan. Now the problem is that the government of the Republic of Korea is completely obsessed with the four-party talks. Providing a framework for dialogue such as the four-party talks is important, but we have to be realistic about whether such talks are really achievable. We know the North is only interested in dialogue with the United States."

"More Activism Needed On South-North Issue"

Anti-establishment Hankyoreh Shinmun judged (12/31): "We have a briefing session on the four-party talks before us, but the prospect of improved South-North relations remains dim. As yet, neither side has shown that it is determined to engage in a changed relationship. The apology came only because of the U.S. role. Nevertheless, this episode should teach us...not be too dependent upon the United States."

AUSTRALIA: "Belated Good Sense From North Korea"

An editorial in the liberal Sydney Morning Herald read (1/2): "The expression of 'deep regret' from Pyongyang has left many observers wondering what motivated this apology.... One reason....(is that North Korea) is battling against economic collapse and many of its unfortunate citizens are facing starvation. The only realistic source of aid is the economically successful South Korea and that arch-enemy of Communism, the United States. While there has been a slight rapprochement between the United States and North Korea over the past two years, the Americans clearly hold the upper hand in negotiations. North Korea needs more than food and fuel. It needs technical, economic and industrial expertise to get the economy moving beyond a subsistence level. And it desperately needs capital.... Secretary of State Warren Christopher made clear last month that U.S. aid depended on a complete apology by the North Koreans.... If the North's readiness to listen to a proposal for peace talks involving the two Koreas, the United States and China can be taken at face value, there is a chance that the antagonism between the North and South could at last be defused.... One of the last bastions of Communism will thus be obliged to face the real world. Therein lies at least one danger for the Pyongyang regime: Once exposed to the world outside, North Koreans will never want a return to the past."

JAPAN: "U.S. Compromise Diplomacy Produces Results"

Liberal Mainichi told its readers (1/8): "During his first press conference of the new year in Seoul on January 7, South Korean President Kim Young Sam made clear his intention to promote dialogue with North Korea. At the same time, President Kim officially recognized the seriousness of the food shortage in the North. We welcome President Kim's sudden change to this realistic approach toward North Korea. Relations between North and South Korea had been tense and antagonistic since a North Korean submarine invaded South Korean waters last September. South Korea had sought the North's formal apology for the submarine incident and a pledge that a similar incident would not recur. But Pyongyang repeated its position that the submarine malfunctioned and merely ran aground in the South.

"The United States, acting as a conduit between the two Koreas, offered a 'compromise' plan to settle the North-South crisis by proposing that the North make a gesture by apologizing to the South. In return, Washington urged Pyongyang to attend a U.S.-South Korea briefing on the proposed four-way talks on peace on the Korean peninsula. This was 'compromise diplomacy,' an area in which the United States excels. In the United States, international politics and diplomacy are considered the art of reaching as wise a compromise as possible."

"North Korea's Sincerity To Be Tested By Its Apology"

Liberal Asahi asserted (12/31): "As a neighbor, we welcome North Korea's apology for the submarine case, which could head off a potential crisis. North Korea's food shortage and other economic difficulties must have forced the isolated nation to take a 'softer' stance. Although the wording of the apology may not be satisfactory to South Korea, North Korea's action could open the door for quadrilateral talks.

"However, we should not be too optimistic about North Korea's announcement. The food-devastated country is expecting the West to lift trade sanctions and provide food aid. Although Japan resumed working-level talks with North Korea in mid-December, it should not move too fast and but should have close consultation with the U.S. and South Korea."

"North Korea Must Show 'Regret' Is Real"

In the opinion of top-circulation, moderate Yomiuri (12/31): "Because the situation on the Korean Peninsula is a real security concern to Japan, we welcome the settlement of this crisis.

"The United States worked hard to resolve the submarine incident because it feared that it could cause irreversible damage to KEDO, whose success is crucial for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

"It is indispensable that North Korea stick to the pledge it made in the statement of regret. Pyongyang should refrain from conducting itself in a manner that could be construed by South Korea as provocation and try to instill confidence and trust between the two Koreas. North Korea should show through its future behavior that it really means its pledge 'to work with others for durable peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.' We sincerely hope that 1997 will mark a giant step toward peace and stability for the peninsula."

"We Cannot Forgive North Korea's 'Threatening' Foreign Policy"

Conservative Sankei expressed this view (12/31): "Although North Korea issued a statement of regret, it is not clear for whom the North is apologizing. North Korea did not disclose the motive of the submarine incident but made only an evasive announcement. North Korea is just pretending that it feels regret because it wants food aid and an easing of trade sanctions.

"Some people seem to be sympathetic to North Korea, considering the national pride of the isolated nation. However, North Korea should respect the rules of the international community if it wishes to join it. The international community should continue criticizing North Korea's warlike character and let it know that its offensive nationalistic foreign policy will not work in the international arena."

PHILIPPINES: "North Korea's Act Of Contrition"

Ricardo Malay, in commentary in the independent Manila Chronicle, declared (1/1): "Like a bolt from the blue, North Korea has apologized to South Korea for sending a spy submarine last September... The move is equivalent to the U.S. Government apologizing to Fidel Castro for the CIA's attempt on his life some thirty years ago.... Is it possible that the 'hermit kingdom'...is changing its spots after all the years and joining the mainstream of the global community?... It is too early to tell if this act of contrition will signal more civilized Northe Korean behavior. Since this is an unprecedented act, there is no yardstick by which to determine if Pyongyang is as good as its word. Its erratic politics stands in the way of sympathizing with its avowals."

EUROPE

BRITAIN: "A Korean Chance"

In the view of the independent, weekly Economist (1/3): "Saying sorry is something politicians, even democratic ones, find almost impossibly hard to do. So when the world's last Stalinist regime expresses its 'deep regrets' for an international incident, you can be sure that something is up. So it is. North Korea's apology for sending a submarine-load of armed infiltrators to South Korea last September breaks the diplomatic deadlock that has ensured the continuation of the North's isolation."

GERMANY: "North Korea's 'Apology' Brings Needed Food"

According to Ewald Stein, writing in business-oriented Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf (1/8): "It is well known that the North Korean leadership likes political plots and schemes. At the end of last year, it once again gave proof of it. More or less reluctantly, Pyongyang apologized for having sent a submarine to spy on its unloved brothers in the South. In addition, it signalled its readiness to engage in peace talks with Seoul, something which it has been denying for more than 40 years.

"The kowtow was worth it: The U.S. Treasury has only just permitted an American company to deliver 500,000 tons of food to North Korea. The shipment is extremely welcome there, because a series of natural disasters North of the 38th parallel has caused enormous suffering. However, it is questionable whether the Americans will achieve their intended goal by easing the up to now strict embargo. Because now the North Korean soldiers will be spoon-fed in such a way that they can continue to demonstrate strength.... The hope remains that the North Korean People's Army will first of all be busy with another mission: 'All members of the army have to prepare themselves for dedicatedly defending their Supreme Commander.' He comes first. Many heads of state must really envy the revered and wise comrade Kim Jong Il."

AUSTRIA: "Hunger, But No Reconciliation"

Foreign affairs writer Andreas Schwarz, penned this for prestigious, conservative Die Presse (12/31): "In South Korea, people are holding massive strikes against the government's austerity measures, following 15 years of unbridled economic upswing. In North Korea, the second winter of hunger is announcing itself--200 grams of rice per person, per day count as a luxury. These two news items demonstrate the enormous gap between the two parts of a divided Korea.... The fact that the Pyongyang government reluctantly apologized to Seoul for the submarine spy incident of last autumn and agreed to four-party negotiations with the United States and China is clearly a gesture to secure food support from the United States.

"However, speculation that this might be a first sign of detente between the North and the South comes too early. Despite the disastrous economic situation, the North Korean regime has a tight grip on its people and Asian obedience as well as rigid Communist discipline has made the people submissive. This is why Pyongyang does not (yet) see a need to open up the country, thus demonstrating that the model of the North has failed."

##

For more information, please contact:

U.S. Information Agency

Office of Public Liaison

Telephone: (202) 619-4355

3/19/98

# # #