In the News – South Korea Predicts Changes in Peninsula

In the News – South Korea Predicts Changes in Peninsula

Kim Jong-un visited with members of a tank division in a photograph released Sunday by North Korea's official news agency.

By 
Published: January 1, 2012

SEOUL, South Korea — President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea vowed on Monday to “deal strongly with any provocations” from the North, predicting a “big change” on the divided Korean Peninsula following the death of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, and his young, untested son’s rise to power.

In his nationally televised New Year’s speech, Mr. Lee did not elaborate on what momentous change he foresaw. But policy-makers and analysts in the region are closely watching whether the designated successor in the North, Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be in his 20s, can consolidate his dynastic grip on power or will depend on caretakers and even regents to run the country, and how such scenarios might affect the country’s external policies, especially its nuclear weapons programs.

“A big change is expected in the situation on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia following the death of Chairman Kim Jong-il,” Mr. Lee said. “The situation on the Korean Peninsula is now entering a new turning point. But there should be a new opportunity amid changes and uncertainty.”

Mr. Lee’s warning against North Korea’s provocations came amid fears that the North, as it often has, might attempt military or terrorist attacks on the South to reinforce internal unity at a time of sensitive transition and to boost a new leader’s military credentials.

Over the weekend, North Korea made Mr. Kim supreme commander of the 1.2 million-member Korean People’s Army, a move considered crucial to protecting his power, and issued a series of statements calling Mr. Lee’s government in Seoul “national traitors” and vowing “punishment” and “revenge.”

Mr. Lee, though, kept open the possibility of inter-Korean talks despite North Korea’s repeated statements that it had no intention of dealing with his government.

“It is South and North Korea, before any one else, that must try to achieve the task of building peace, security and reunification on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

Mr. Lee’s speech came a day after North Korea issued a New Year’s Day statement on Sunday that sought to cement support for Mr. Kim, using nationalist language about “socialist fairylands” in the North.

“The whole party, the entire army and all the people should possess a firm conviction that they will become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong-un unto death,” urged an editorial carried by the official newspapers of the Workers’ Party, the Korean People’s Army and the Socialist Youth League.

The annual editorial, roughly equivalent to the State of the Union speech in the United States, is scrutinized by analysts for clues to the reclusive country’s direction. This year’s editorial, appearing just two week after Mr. Kim succeeded his father, emphasized continuity and effusively saluted the young Mr. Kim as a worthy successor.

The statement vowed to improve the economy of the impoverished, authoritarian country and exhorted the people to revolutionize the farm industry, increase coal production and improve the performance of light industry. While acknowledging that the nation’s food crisis remained a “burning issue,” the editorial said that North Korea was “at the epochal point of opening the gates of a thriving country,” with parts of Pyongyang, the capital, “turned into socialist fairylands.”

But it provided few specifics on how the government would turn the economy around.

South Korea issued a report analyzing the editorial, saying that “rather than offering a new policy, North Korea is sticking to its old policy line under the pretext of honoring the dying wishes of Kim Jong-il.”

Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, said the editorial showed that North Korea’s real focus this year would be on building “a Stalinist monolithic dictatorial system” around Kim Jong-un. “With an intense workload at home, the regime is unlikely to try to improve ties with South Korea or the external world,” he added.

The editorial called South Korea’s government “unethical and antinational” for failing to express official condolences over the death of Kim Jong-il, who ruled for 17 years. It said relations between the two Koreas would not improve while Mr. Lee serves as president.

North Korea also released an annual list of propaganda slogans that will adorn walls and billboards throughout the country. One of them threatened to turn the Blue House, the presidential office in Seoul, into a “sea of fire” if the South provoked the North.

The editorial also demanded that Washington withdraw its 28,500 “imperialist invasion troops” from South Korea.

Kim Jong-un received a crucial endorsement from China on Saturday, when President Hu Jintao congratulated him on his appointment as supreme military leader and said the “friendly cooperation” between China and North Korea is sure to “strengthen,” according to a statement on a Chinese government Web site.

Original article can be found here.

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