The Day After the Flop

14 Apr

109947_600.jpg Pundits more knowledgeable than I continue to weigh in on the embarassing flop that was North Korea’s Unha 3 rocket launching yesterday. It’s not just that I want to beat this horse into the dust before it dies. More has to happen than North Korean failures for North Korea to cease being an odious embarassment to humanity. As every cynic points out, China’s opinion on the flop is important. Here, and I think it’s a positive development, reactions are mixed. Of course, according to Adam Cathcart, there’s the usual boilerplate support for what the Chinese hope North Korea will become – China. But then, there’s netizen disapproval and a dawning realization, that North Korea might be a liability, which, call me optimistic, all bodes well for what future Chinese policy on North Korea could be. Finally, there’s this dissenting opinion, where an elite figure coins the term “muddled-headed move”, to describe the flop.

…a word from Lv Chao, the Liaoning scholar who, along with Zhang Liangui and Zhu Feng, is probably the archetypal establishment academic voice from the PRC on North Korea. After all the hair-pulling and option-considering in China that preceded the launch, Lv succeeds in starting his op-ed with a statement which is shockingly bland: “其实,这次失败并不是非常意外的事情。In fact, this failure [of the North Korean missile launch] is not really an unusual thing.

However, lest we believe that Lv is simply obfuscating on behalf of the North Koreans, essentially saying “no big deal,” consider the fact that the scholar coins the phrase “Muddle-Headed Move [昏招]” to describe the missile test…Lv continues by recounting that the strange thing about the launch is that it had been preceded by a relaxation of tensions in East Asia and improving North Korean relations with both the US and Europe. (For our take on DPRK-Europe relations and the food issue, see here.) Moreover, he makes it clear that the rocket launch was not worth the lost momentum in these other areas. This is Chinese globalism, one might say, at its best, where the defense academic is talking up the EU and the benefits of recognizing the US.

Looking at things then from the DPRK point of view, Lv reminds readers that the new government is on fresh legs and has “a thousand things left to be done” [百废待兴]. North Korea is then scolded – in what is becoming an increasingly less-muted theme from China since Janaury – for having wasted precious resources on the launch when the national economy is so manifestly weak [很薄弱的国民经济]. Had the launch been successful, he notes, the regime could at least have used it to mobilize the nationalist consciousness for struggle on the economic front, but even that secondary benefit cannot now accrue.

One gets the feeling that Lv could have gone on for a while about how the launch’s effect of ceasing food aid to North Korea from the US, and cutting the country off further, has resulted in a “bad international climate,” but one can also read between the lines here and get the sense that it has also made the DPRK – again – quite reliant on its Chinese ally to prop up their consumer economy. No comment is forthcoming from the Liaoning scholar on this front, but the implication is indeed there.

Lv becomes suitably paternalistic in his final paragraph:

特别是不要再冒险,比如再次发射卫星,或进行核试验等等,这些都是非常危险的举动。在国内,朝鲜也应该审时度势对待危机,全面恢复国内建设,稳定国家和社会,发展经济,尽快搞好民生。对朝鲜来讲,这才是当务之急。The most important thing is that [North Korea] must not again engage in risky (w/ the implication of “annoying” – Ed.) behavior like doing another missile test, or moving forward with another nuclear test, etc. etc., all of this would be extremely dangerous actions. Inside North Korea, the time has come to seize the hour [审时度势] to size up the situation of crisis, completely revive the national construction, stabilize the country and the society, develop the economy, and, with all haste, improve the people’s livelihood.

109936_600.jpg Now, as Chao’s anxious tone barely conceals, most pundits believe, that North Korea will attempt another nuclear test. For that, conservatives blame the Obama administration for that, while administration officials believe the Chinese and Russians will finally abandon the North Koreans. This split in how the partisans read the tea leaves is also reflected in a debate whether North Korea called the Obama administration’s “Leap Day agreement bluff”, or if somewhere in North Korea’s leadership feedback loops and brains failed and fizzled outlike the missile resulting in a wounded duck sputtering into the drink.

Finally, and verging on speculative fiction with a dollop of partisan rosiness, a progressive realist asks if “…the South Koreans downed the rocket launch last night through espionage, and specifically cyber warfare.” That would defuse the tension, wouldn’t it?

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