One issue on South Korean voters’ minds as elections near doesn’t seem to be North Korea – and Japan sounds much more concerned – “How should economic assistance to North Korea be carried out in the future?” I always like straight answers to a politicized issue, all wrapped up in a graphic and that doesn’t involve soju.
Too much should not be read into any one poll question, but two things stand out to us. First, the core support for providing assistance to the North is volatile and highly dependent on what North Korea does. But second, that support is never particularly strong. During much of the Roh Moo Hyun presidency, large majorities favored scaling back assistance. And at the end of the LMB administration more than 75 percent believed that aid should “stay the same” or even be cut or stopped even though very little was on the table. The two presidential hopefuls have both promised greater engagement with North Korea. But regardless of who is elected it is highly unlikely that South Korean aid to the North will return to its engagement-era highs in the absence of a dramatic breakthrough in Pyongyang.
Officially, the South Korean Unification ministry also appears to be downplaying a planned missile launch that could coincide with both Japanese general elections on December 16 and South Korean polls on December 19.
An official with South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the launch is intended to strengthen the leadership of new leader Kim Jong Un, who has faltered in initiating reforms smoothly.
The official said another major reason is Pyongyang’s relationship with the United States. North Korea is keen to reopen talks with Washington that it hopes will lead to full-fledged diplomatic relations.
The two camps in the South Korean election cannot ignore Pyongyang’s move.
Hankyoreh is adopting a “boy crying wolf” attitude, with a yawn.
In particular, the decision to time the launch around the South Korean presidential election can’t be seen as anything other than a blatant attempt to affect its outcome. Also, the announcement of the plans just after South Korea’s own launch of the Naro was postponed seems to have had the goal of diluting international criticism.
Whatever justification it offers, there is very little likelihood that Pyongyang’s aims will be achieved. South Korean voters have gotten wise to its past efforts to influence elections, and there is virtually no chance of their being roped in this time. Indeed, the real likelihood is that they will become even more distrustful of North Korea.
Washington and Tokyo are already issuing stern warnings, and there is a good chance of additional UN sanctions. Pyongyang needs to stop this self-isolating, pointless, and reckless behavior and commit itself to improving its people’s lives, promoting stability, and building international trust. For the sake of everyone, we look forward to a wise decision.