L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

19 September 2006 Blog Home : September 2006 : Permalink

The Hermit Kingdoms

As any student of the orient knows Korea was once known as the Hermit Kingdom because it didn't welcome foreigners. These days N Korea retains much of that same reputation of strict isolation, although it does try to trade here and there. Unfortunately it also has this bad habit of money laundering as well as trading in counterfeit notes, drugs - both illegal and merely counterfeit - and weapons of mass destruction. Hence even its friend, ally and protector - China - gets narked every now and then and decides to close down N Korean related interests. But it was Japan that used to be the major trading victim of N Korea. Last year it stepped up its inspections on N Korean vessels entering Japanese ports and this year it discovered that the amount of amphetamines seized had declined drastically. As Japundit says "Gee. . . You think there’s a connection?"

Buoyed up by this and annoyed by the DPRK's missile tests Japan has increased the pressure with all the successors to PM Koizumi doing their bit to look tough. Recently the N Korean Synchronized swimming team failed to get visas for some of its officials so that it could participate in the 11th FINA Synchronized Swimming World Cup 2006 in Yokohama and then today the BBC reports that Japan has tightened the screw even further in conjunction with Australia:

Japan and Australia have announced new financial sanctions against North Korea, stepping up pressure on the secretive state over missile tests.

The sanctions will freeze the transfer of money to North Korea by groups suspected of having links to its nuclear or missile programmes.

The move, which follows similar action by the US, comes after Pyongyang launched several missiles in July.


Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe said the new sanctions were in line with a United Nations resolution which denounced the missile tests.

The Japanese measures affect 15 groups and one individual, and will come into effect later on Tuesday, according to Japanese media.

The Australian measures applied to 12 companies and one person, according to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who said the sanctions were "consistent with our strong international stand against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

Media reports said the two lists were almost identical.

But of course there is the question of other countries - specifically S Korea and China. China, as noted above, seems keen to stop the worst abuses while still letting the more minor stuff - and particularly stuff that doesn't hurt China - continue. In other words it is sort of a guarded neutral. The current S Korean government on the other hand seems to feel that fraternal Korean solidarity trumps everything else. In the elipsis above I removed these key sentences:

South Korea has urged other countries not to push the North into a corner.

The South is worried that the North may retaliate by carrying out a nuclear test, which would destroy any remaining hope of a diplomatic solution to the stand-off.

But then S Korea is not exactly having a wonderful time itself. The Marmot's Hole linked to this IHT article which describes the US S Korean relationship in a manner that seems certain to cause outrage amongst Korean nationalists:

The Bush aides have acknowledged that the gap with the Roh government has grown so much in recent months - "as wide as the Sea of Japan," one senior official said - that it would be almost impossible to hide.

The Asia Times make the point even more clearly:

Nonetheless, Roh's visit may inadvertently prove to be a defining moment for the US-South Korea alliance, presaging its sunset, for beneath the public smiles and handshakes between the two leaders and optimistic-sounding but inscrutable pronouncements, such as seeking a "joint comprehensive approach" to restarting the six-party talks, unmistakably flowed an undercurrent of unfriendly distrust.

The alliance has proved to be one of the most successful and durable in the world. But today Roh wishes to destroy its time-tested dynamics by wresting away from the United States wartime operational control of the two countries' armed forces, the result of which will be the complete and virtually irreversible dismantlement of the US-ROK (Republic of Korea) Combined Forces Command.

This will set the stage, at the cost of broader US interests in Northeast Asia and to the detriment of South Korea's security, for the withdrawal of US troops from Korea. With an inter-Korean summit pageantry of his own in mind, Roh has been offering North Korean leader Kim Jong-il unconditional gifts throughout his presidency: massive shipments of rice, fertilizer, and other blandishments. Now it looks as if Roh is preparing to give the Northern dictator the ultimate gift of evicting US troops from Korean territory.

Given that S Korea has also been playing silly buggers in its Free Trade Agreement negotiations (see lots of Marmot posts e.g. this one) and arguing with China about some obscure submerged rock (shades of Takeshima/Dokdo) the South seems to be following its Northern neighbour into diplomatic isolation. Combine this with curious idea about the ownership of "Intellectual Property" and you begin to see a country that remains surprisingly (and apparently increasingly) xenophobic and reclusive. I doubt the major Korean traders, car makers and electronics companies will appreciate it if the policy continues, and hence I doubt that the South will also become a "Hermit Kingdom" but it would not surprise me to see this it becomes even more introspective at least until the next election. After that I suspect that a more rational party will take over and reverse some of the trends but it may take a further electoral cycle before the harm that protectionism and sucking up to the North becomes clear.

Update: Fascinating post on how the South appears to be financing the North at the Marmot

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin