Commentary Magazine


Topic: Republic of Korea

What Real Threats Look Like

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

There is a set of realities identified by the American left as threats to national, if not global, security. These include things like the U.S.’s own nuclear arsenal, the stationing abroad of some 370,000 American troops, Israel’s capable defenses, and warm weather. To call these phenomena threats is no mere act of speculation. It is a bold inversion of the truth.

Few policies boast a perfect record of 50-plus years, but U.S. nuclear deterrence has the right to do so. The American arsenal kept Russia from invading Western Europe throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Similarly, U.S. military bases, whether established in postwar Germany and Japan or set up 50 years later in the Balkans, have underwritten long-term stability in every hemisphere.

The left has ignored entirely the debt owed to Israel’s military. In 1981, the Israeli Airforce’s Operation Babylon took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in Osirak, robbing the world’s most dangerous leader of his own deterrence capabilities. This is to say nothing of Israel’s attack on other dangerous weapons programs and of the Jewish state’s perpetual battle to defeat Islamist terrorism the world over.

As for the deadly threat of high temperatures, a 2007 study reported: “From 1979 to 1997, extreme cold killed roughly twice as many Americans as heat waves, according to Indur Goklany of the U.S. Department of the Interior.”

It is remarkable how fast these boutique “threats” fall by the wayside when the genuine article appears. Today, the AP reports, “The Dow Jones industrials plunged below 10,000 Tuesday after traders dumped stocks on worries about the global economy and tensions between North and South Korea.” Funny, you never read about a stock-market nosedive in response to a balmy June, the ongoing maintenance of American nuclear weapons, an Israeli response to Hamas, or the construction of a distant American military base.

The world sets itself on edge like this only when an unmistakable, demonstrable threat to peace emerges. We now see one in the increasing bellicosity of Kim Jong-il’s regime.

And speaking of those dangerous American military bases abroad, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak doesn’t seem to be too offended by President Obama’s declaration that “the Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States.” When Seoul turns down that support, we can start worrying about the left’s critical-threat list. Until then, the world has some actual problems to deal with, thanks very much.

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The Ongoing Korean War

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

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Dvorak Diplomacy

Today, the New York Philharmonic arrived in Pyongyang, the cold and barren capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The orchestra will perform a concert tomorrow, and Lorin Maazel, its music director, hopes to make a “tiny contribution” to warming up America’s relations with the world’s most repugnant state. “I am a musician and not a politician, but music has always been an arena or area where people can make contact.”

Contact? The hope in the West is that increased contact, starting with the Phil’s visit, will open up North Korea, the world’s most isolated nation. Many argue that friendly relations will weaken the regime, which has been built on hostility to the United States. “I don’t see why Kim is doing it,” says Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of the Kimist state. “If I were him, I wouldn’t do it.”

So why did North Korea’s leader invite America’s premier orchestra to play in his capital? The answer may be found in Seoul, the capital of the better version of Korea. South Korea today inaugurated its 17th president, Lee Myung-bak. The conservative Lee looks set to reverse a decade of the Sunshine Policy of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Lee has already set a new tone in Seoul by signaling that he will condition major assistance to North Korea on adherence to its commitment to give up its atomic bombs. Since the beginning of this year Pyongyang has failed to provide a promised declaration of its nuclear weapons programs, and, as a result, the international community has slowed aid deliveries.

There are signs that the North is headed toward another economic downturn, so Kim Jong Il is undoubtedly looking for new sources of assistance. The North Korean government has stockpiled at least six months’ worth of fuel and other supplies, so it can last through the year. Although it’s unlikely that Beijing would let the regime fall, Kim does not either trust or like the Chinese and would prefer to find other sources of support, especially because multiple benefactors would allow him to play one off against the others, as his father so skillfully did during the Cold War.

The risk is that the United States will fall for the euphoria surrounding the New York Phil’s visit, which has the blessing of the Bush administration. “I don’t think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea,” said Condoleezza Rice, who attended Lee’s inauguration. I agree, but her recent Korean policy has been marked by unimaginative strategy, humiliating moments, and unseemly compromises. Kim is a grandmaster of tactics, and if there will be any victim of “Dvorak Diplomacy,” it may be us, not him.

Today, the New York Philharmonic arrived in Pyongyang, the cold and barren capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The orchestra will perform a concert tomorrow, and Lorin Maazel, its music director, hopes to make a “tiny contribution” to warming up America’s relations with the world’s most repugnant state. “I am a musician and not a politician, but music has always been an arena or area where people can make contact.”

Contact? The hope in the West is that increased contact, starting with the Phil’s visit, will open up North Korea, the world’s most isolated nation. Many argue that friendly relations will weaken the regime, which has been built on hostility to the United States. “I don’t see why Kim is doing it,” says Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of the Kimist state. “If I were him, I wouldn’t do it.”

So why did North Korea’s leader invite America’s premier orchestra to play in his capital? The answer may be found in Seoul, the capital of the better version of Korea. South Korea today inaugurated its 17th president, Lee Myung-bak. The conservative Lee looks set to reverse a decade of the Sunshine Policy of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Lee has already set a new tone in Seoul by signaling that he will condition major assistance to North Korea on adherence to its commitment to give up its atomic bombs. Since the beginning of this year Pyongyang has failed to provide a promised declaration of its nuclear weapons programs, and, as a result, the international community has slowed aid deliveries.

There are signs that the North is headed toward another economic downturn, so Kim Jong Il is undoubtedly looking for new sources of assistance. The North Korean government has stockpiled at least six months’ worth of fuel and other supplies, so it can last through the year. Although it’s unlikely that Beijing would let the regime fall, Kim does not either trust or like the Chinese and would prefer to find other sources of support, especially because multiple benefactors would allow him to play one off against the others, as his father so skillfully did during the Cold War.

The risk is that the United States will fall for the euphoria surrounding the New York Phil’s visit, which has the blessing of the Bush administration. “I don’t think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea,” said Condoleezza Rice, who attended Lee’s inauguration. I agree, but her recent Korean policy has been marked by unimaginative strategy, humiliating moments, and unseemly compromises. Kim is a grandmaster of tactics, and if there will be any victim of “Dvorak Diplomacy,” it may be us, not him.

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Jabbing Japan

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

Japan’s new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, arrives in Washington tomorrow for talks with President Bush on Friday. This is his first foreign trip since taking office in September, after the resignation of Shinzo Abe, a staunch supporter of the United States.

The visit takes place against the backdrop of tensions between Tokyo and Washington. The issue that gets the most attention is the withdrawal of Japan’s naval mission in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, there are other matters unsettling relations between the United States and its most important ally in East Asia. The one that can do the most immediate damage on Friday relates to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang demands that the State Department remove it from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Japan, for its part, insists the United States take no such action until the North comes clean on the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it has abducted. The Japanese public has rightly become transfixed over the plight of the victims, especially Megumi Yokota, a schoolgirl who was nabbed in late 1977 on her way home from badminton practice in Niigata.

In a gesture to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that rogue North Korean agents—are there any other kind?—had abducted the young Yokota and twelve other Japanese from 1977 to 1983. Five of the abductees were still alive, Kim said. Megumi, however, was not among them. She had, according to the North Korean leader, taken her own life in 1993. The government said it could not locate her remains.

The North Koreans then tried to get the Japanese to accept the actuarially-improbable notion that almost two-thirds of the young abductees had croaked and the medically-incredible claim that both a 24-year-old male and a 27-year-old female had died of heart disease. Since then, Pyongyang has issued more prevarications, inventions, and fabrications about the abductees. Fortunately, the Japanese public has not bought any of the perverse untruths. Tokyo’s envoys have also been resolute.

American diplomats, however, have taken a less inspiring stand. For example, Christopher Hill, the State Department’s lead negotiator in the North Korean disarmament talks, appears to have cut another of his famous side deals recently. It looks like he promised to take North Korea off the terror list in return for Pyongyang’s cooperation on disabling nuclear facilities and disclosing its nuclear programs. Fukuda, who has a reputation as a dove, has reportedly been upset on being undercut by Washington on the abductee issue.

What do the Japanese abductees have to do with the American terrorism list? Pyongyang kidnapped the thirteen-year-old Yokota and other Japanese to obtain language and culture instruction for its undercover agents. Pyongyang won’t release Yokota and the seven others because, it appears, they know too much about Kim Jong Il’s responsibility for clandestine activities and terrorist acts, especially the downing of a South Korean jetliner in 1987.

Americans seem to be fascinated by abductions. But we’ve negelcted Megumi Yokota, wrongly: her fate is now bound up with ours. People might disagree with me if I said that we cannot truly solve any of the problems involving North Korea until we solve all of them, so let me make a more modest point: I do not see the logic in offending Japan, an old friend, to please a dangerous adversary, North Korea. North Korea should stay on the State Department’s list until it frees Yokota and the other abductees.

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Khan and Kim

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea is trying to convince the United States that it never intended to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. “Some explanations make sense; some are a bit of a stretch,” said one American official involved in the discussions with Pyongyang. Whether or not the North Koreans are telling the truth, we have now reached the critical phase of negotiations that formally started in April 2003.

In February of this year, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea agreed to a two-part deal to shut down its nuclear weapons program. The North already has completed its first-stage obligations by turning off and sealing its only working reactor, which is located in Yongbyon. At this moment, American and other officials are implementing the second part by “disabling” the reactor. The North Koreans will complete their second-stage promises when they disclose all nuclear programs.

Why do we suspect that Kim Jong Il’s technicians have been trying to enrich uranium? Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb and the ringleader of a global black market in nuke technology, says he began working with North Korea around 1991. Among other things, Khan supplied equipment for centrifuges—supersonic-speed machines that separate uranium’s different isotopes so as to permit the collection of weapons-grade material—until as late as the middle of 2002, shortly before he admitted his black-market activities. North Korean agents also have been caught buying items that are useful in a uranium-bomb program, such as aluminum tubes suitable for Khan-type centrifuges. Pakistan’s help may have continued until as recently as 2003: Khan has been sighted in the North more than a dozen times.

So far, the North Koreans have denied virtually everything, calling allegations a “whopping lie” fabricated by the United States. Yet there is one way to get to the bottom of this matter: talk to Khan face-to-face. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, claims that American officials have had “access” to him, but the preponderance of evidence indicates that General Pervez Musharraf has rebuffed the Bush administration’s requests for one-on-one contact. There are reports that the Pakistani leader has turned down Washington to prevent the exposure of China’s ties with Khan.

If the embattled strongman is such a good friend of America, as the White House claims he is, then let him prove it. We need to talk to Khan directly now—and General Musharraf can make it happen.

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea is trying to convince the United States that it never intended to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. “Some explanations make sense; some are a bit of a stretch,” said one American official involved in the discussions with Pyongyang. Whether or not the North Koreans are telling the truth, we have now reached the critical phase of negotiations that formally started in April 2003.

In February of this year, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea agreed to a two-part deal to shut down its nuclear weapons program. The North already has completed its first-stage obligations by turning off and sealing its only working reactor, which is located in Yongbyon. At this moment, American and other officials are implementing the second part by “disabling” the reactor. The North Koreans will complete their second-stage promises when they disclose all nuclear programs.

Why do we suspect that Kim Jong Il’s technicians have been trying to enrich uranium? Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb and the ringleader of a global black market in nuke technology, says he began working with North Korea around 1991. Among other things, Khan supplied equipment for centrifuges—supersonic-speed machines that separate uranium’s different isotopes so as to permit the collection of weapons-grade material—until as late as the middle of 2002, shortly before he admitted his black-market activities. North Korean agents also have been caught buying items that are useful in a uranium-bomb program, such as aluminum tubes suitable for Khan-type centrifuges. Pakistan’s help may have continued until as recently as 2003: Khan has been sighted in the North more than a dozen times.

So far, the North Koreans have denied virtually everything, calling allegations a “whopping lie” fabricated by the United States. Yet there is one way to get to the bottom of this matter: talk to Khan face-to-face. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, claims that American officials have had “access” to him, but the preponderance of evidence indicates that General Pervez Musharraf has rebuffed the Bush administration’s requests for one-on-one contact. There are reports that the Pakistani leader has turned down Washington to prevent the exposure of China’s ties with Khan.

If the embattled strongman is such a good friend of America, as the White House claims he is, then let him prove it. We need to talk to Khan directly now—and General Musharraf can make it happen.

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“The Republic of China”

Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.

Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:

“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.

But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?

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Reports are circulating this morning that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has taken the unusual step of publicly warning Taipei not to hold a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations using the name “Taiwan.” This is very unusual: the State Department usually declines comment on such matters. The story is widely reported in official Chinese media, but the most thorough report comes from Charles Snyder and Ko Shu-ling in the Taipei Times:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said that the bid to enter the world body under the name “Taiwan” would be a move to change the “status quo”. . . . The U.S. has signaled a major intensification of its campaign against President Chen Shui-bian’s plan for a referendum seeking membership in the UN under the name “Taiwan,” warning publicly for the first time that it sees the referendum as a move toward independence.

Snyder and Ko go on to quote Negroponte:

“I would recall that in the past President Chen has made commitments to the American president, to the international community, and to the people of Taiwan not to take any kind of steps that would represent a unilateral alteration of the status quo, such as a change in the official name of Taiwan,” Negroponte said.

But what is Taiwan’s “official name”? I consulted the CIA’s World Factbook: only “Taiwan” is listed. The Factbook entry follows the usage we have insisted on for decades, referring to the island only as Taiwan. But given that we use the name Taiwan, why would we object to the Taiwanese following our example?

The answer is that Taiwan has, in fact, another name, “The Republic of China,” which was imposed on it when the troops of Chiang Kai-shek arrived in 1945. But after we broke off independent relations with Taiwan in 1979, we expunged “Republic of China” from all official usage—even from the World Factbook (which, curiously, does list “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” for North Korea, a country we do not recognize diplomatically).

Yet the name “Republic of China” has not really vanished: Negroponte was referring to it when he spoke of an “official name.” “The Republic of China” is the last, slender thread by which one can argue that Taiwan is somehow linked to China. Washington and Beijing do not want it to perish entirely—though they themselves publicly repudiate it. (Although Negroponte insists, indirectly, that the Taiwanese continue to use it, whether they like it or not. He even opposes a democratic referendum on the question.)

Our government takes this position, very much at odds with fundamental American beliefs about people and their rights, for one reason: pressure from China. If Beijing ended its diplomatic blockade of Taiwan, the United States would not continue it alone. Now, as Taiwan considers its application to the UN, it may be time for us to end that blockade without waiting for Beijing.

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Should We Give Aid to North Korea?

Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

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Devastating floods, caused by more than a week of downpours, recently have killed about 300 North Koreans, displaced more than 300,000 of them, and ruined at least 11 percent of their cropland. The waters have also damaged 540 bridges and 800 buildings. The U.N. said 58,000 homes have been destroyed. The capital of Pyongyang is covered by waist-deep water. South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said that “the flood damage in the North is heartbreaking.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has appealed to the international community for assistance. South Korea immediately responded by pledging $7.5 million in emergency assistance. The United States will also help, providing $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply blankets, water containers, and shelter materials.

Humanitarian assistance is always in season. In fact, the United States has been one of the largest food donors to North Korea in recent years. Yet aid is fungible. Whether we provide in cash or kind, each dollar we give means that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il can spend one fewer dollar on his suffering populace, and one more building weapons of mass destruction. We have, in a real sense, funded the devices that threaten us. Moreover, North Korea’s regime has diverted assistance from the United Nations World Food Program, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, to feed the military and favored officials instead of the country’s most needy citizens. If it were not for aid provided by Bill Clinton and South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung, Kim Jong Il’s destitute regime would have collapsed long ago.

Substantial aid, however, can also undermine a government by dividing the ruling cadre and winning the loyalty of common folk—if the assistance is monitored rigorously by inspectors. For instance, many ordinary North Koreans have gotten their first glimpses of the outside by talking to foreign aid inspectors, and thereby have realized that all Pyongyang told them about other nations is wrong. Moreover, government minders, accompanying foreign inspectors, have traveled around their country for the first time and learned about the failures of their own government. When he has felt threatened by it, Kim Jong Il has turned down international aid, most notably in 2004, when he told the U.N to stop assistance.

By all means, then, let’s help the North Koreans devastated by this week’s rains, but only if we can use aid to subvert their despicable leaders.

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