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  Asia-Pacific
Letters from Tokyo
North Korea's Point of View
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Kim Il-Sung and Chairman Mao
Zedong: Kim Il-Sung is seen making a toast at Donghu Hotel with Chairman Mao Zedong of China, who invited the North Korean leader to Beijing on Nov. 25, 1958. During the Korean War (1950-53). Mao sent huge troops to save Kim Il-Sung's North Korean government.

The government of North Korea ordered a new nuclear test in the full knowledge that world leaders would rebuke the position taken by North Korea. However, for North Korea it is about protecting the nation state from hostile forces. It is also abundantly clear that the current leader of America, President Obama, is rather "new and inexperienced" when it comes to global issues and the leader of South Korea, President Lee Myung-Bak, is more hostile to North Korea. Therefore, the leaders of North Korea see a new opportunity to further their cause and to pave the way for the future leader of this nation.

This article today is not about vindicating North Korea's foreign policy or the government of North Korea. It is merely focused on the point of view of North Korea. After all, nearly all articles about this nation just lambast the current leader and offer no real solutions or theories. Instead it is just the same negative mantra.

Before we focus on the "democratic morals of the West" we need to focus on real issues. For example, both India and Pakistan have developed their respective nuclear stockpiles in recent times. Despite this, Pakistan is still deemed to be an ally of America and India is increasingly being seen to be a future power.

Also, what about Israel? For it is clear that Israel is a nuclear power and that in the past this nation developed a nuclear capability but this will not stop America from being pro-Israeli. Do not get me wrong, I am not arguing that America should be anti-Israel or anti-India, or whatever, but we need a more honest approach to North Korea.

Iran will also share a similar view to North Korea when it comes to the need to protect the nation state. After all, other nations like America, China, the Russian Federation, France, and the United Kingdom, all have nuclear weapons. Also, given America's recent history, for example Vietnam, bombing Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others, then clearly nations who view America with hostility are deeply alarmed.

After all, you have never had a war between two nuclear powers and clearly it would appear that obtaining nuclear weapons is in the interest of marginalized nations.

So when we turn to the nuclear reality, it is clear that the leaders of North Korea understand history. After all, you have never had a war between two nuclear powers. However, for nations who were seen to be weak, like Iraq, Vietnam, and Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), and a host of others, we saw the real notion of Western democracy.

Then if we focus on democratic values it all comes apart once more. For how can you lambast North Korea on the one hand but support nations like Saudi Arabia on the other hand? Yet for nations like America and the United Kingdom, and a host of others, this issue does not even enter the equation. Why?

Also, does North Korea have foreign troops based throughout any other nation? Of course not, yet in both Japan and South Korea, and a host of other nations, you have American armed forces. So when it comes to being an independent nation, it is apparent that North Korea is more independent with regards to national independence than either Japan or South Korea.

Turning back to democracy and lambasting North Korea on this issue, then how does this relate to America's foreign policy? After all, what happened to democracy when America dropped Agent Orange all over Vietnam? This was followed by America supporting right-wing governments in Central and Latin America.

Also, more recently, thousands of people in Yugoslavia were killed by "democratic bombs" and the majority of people killed were ordinary civilians, including small children and old people. The same applies to the huge loss of life in Iraq and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. You may support America in all of these invasions or you may deem these conflicts to be in the interest of national security or whatever. Yet for nations like China, the Russian Federation, India, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and many others, they were all opposed to America's foreign policy.

Yet during the same timescale, did North Korea invade anyone? Apparently not! Despite this, the nation of North Korea is deemed to be a major threat to humanity and "beyond the pale." However, for North Korea it is America, and not North Korea, which is a global threat to peace. You may not agree with this, or I may not agree with this, it is not important, but if you look at history then which is more absurd?

Turning to history, we must remember that Korea was invaded by Japan and colonized in 1910. So how different are the leaders of both Korea's and which nation can claim to be independent or pro-Korea?

The first President of South Korea, President Syngman-Rhee, 1948-1960, was pro-America, despotic, and used pro-Japanese collaborators in order to control South Korea via "an iron fist." He and the American government abided by the same ex-leaders who had sided with Japan against their own people. Therefore, the new leaders of South Korea had helped the Japanese in their anti-Korean policies.

The next strong leader of South Korea to emerge, after the short leadership of Yun Bo-seon, was that of Park Chung-hee (President 1963-1979). Park had a Japanese name (Takaki Masao) and he clearly did well under the Japanese colonial system. For he went to the Japanese Manchurian military academy and Park once more adopted another Japanese name, this time he was called Okamoto Minoru. Park continued to prosper during the invasion of China by Japan.

After all, be became a lieutenant and fought for the Imperial Japanese Army, however, it is not fully known if led imperial troops against native Koreans. However, he was involved in the fighting in Manchuria and many Korean communists had supported China in its struggle against Japan.

However, Kim Il-sung, the first leader of North Korea, who was Prime Minister between 1948-1972 and President from 1972-1994, had fought against Japanese imperialism. Therefore, unlike South Korean leaders or high officials, Korean nationalism and independence had been kept alive by North Korean leaders.

Kim Il-sung, known as the "Great Leader," had risked everything in order for North Korea to become independent. Kim had been raised in a Protestant Christian family and his maternal grandfather had been a Christian pastor. Both his parents were active in the Christian church and both were anti-Japanese.

He joined various anti-Japanese guerrilla groups in northern China and this proved vital for two factors. Firstly, he clearly fought against the invaders of Korea and secondly, China would remain loyal to him during the Korean War. So clearly, it was Kim and not future leaders in South Korea, like Park Chung-hee, who had fought against Japanese imperialism with bravery.

If we look at regional politics, then is North Korea so unique? Yes, political systems are different and economic development stages are also hugely different. The same applies to political and economic freedom. However, is the political mindset so different in parts of Asia?

For example, the nations of China, Japan, Iran (1979 onwards), Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Vietnam, and others, have one common thread. This applies to the same political party dominating society and the central role of consensus ideology or thinking.

This does not mean that all societies are similar, of course they are not, but all the above nations have "a guiding political party" or "guiding ideology" which maintains order. Of course, we can argue that North Korea goes to the extreme, but you do have the same power-plays happening but under different systems in other parts of Asia.

Focusing on past history, then is North Korea a victim of many negative forces? This applies to "old" Korea being overwhelmingly feudal and based on agriculture prior to Japanese imperialism. After all, the nation was called the "Hermit Kingdom."

Korea, therefore, went from feudalism to Japanese imperialism and then the Korean peninsula became a victim of global power politics. Added to this, you had the height of the Cold War and an alien ideology, communism, adding to the equation.

On top of this, millions have died and been displaced since 1905 onwards and many massacres have happened, be they by outside forces, for example by America or Japan, or because of internal massacres.
After all, how can North Korea trust South Korea given the closeness of the leaders to either past imperial Japan or to modern day America, or to both outside nations? How can you forgive "your brother" when they colluded with outside nations?

Obviously, the South Korean point of view will be very different, but today is about trying to understand all the competing forces which have pulled both nations apart, despite sharing the same ethnic identity and to understand the current stalemate.

If we turn to current events, for example the Six-Party Talks, then it is clear that North Korea is linking military developments alongside obtaining "a genuine peace" whereby America no longer threatens the nation, and also to obtain economic aid in order to stabilize the economy. The six-party talks aim is to find a peaceful resolution to a very complex problem. For North Korea, they believe that they need a security guarantee because of a possible military attack by America or by combined American and South Korean armed forces.

Also, Japanese leaders have played the nationalist card in order to bash North Korea for a very long time. Yet look at the consequences, yes, they have merely forced North Korea into a corner and this is always dangerous. So today we have a more potent leadership in North Korea which is bent on protecting its independence.

The Japanese government used the nationalist card during the recent dispute over a missile test or satellite which was launched by North Korea on April 5. Other more moderate regional nations, notably the Russian Federation and China, stated that nations must remain calm otherwise the consequences may become dire. However, Japan continues to make "noisy statements" and clearly North Korea will see this to be nothing more than an historical hatred of Korea by nationalists in Japan who still pray to war criminals.

Therefore, irrespective if you "love" North Korea or "hate" the government of North Korea, it is essential to try and see the world "through their eyes." Also, if you consider everything, then North Korea may have some valid points when it comes to international relations and being independent.

This article is not meant to be an "apologist" article, on the contrary, it is merely meant to challenge the daily anti-North Korea mass media and to merely add a different dimension. People should remember that Koreans have suffered at the hands of others throughout the 20th century and sadly today both Korea's are divided because of this history. However, how can the Korean peninsula move on when one side is "ridiculed" or "despised?" Surely, a new approach is needed?



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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