Lots to read here. Skim if necessary. Important developments, speeches and press releases included, with commentary by Chris Nelson and his well-informed interlocutors:
All after the jump.
KOREA CRISIS SITREP: Lee’s speech today, US, China, DPRK responses…
ESCALATORY RISK crisis now underway, US now tied to S. Korea policy?
CHINA’S DISMAY obvious…what will it, can it do? Broader US relations risk?
SUMMARY: S. Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s dramatic speech today was aimed at not just his own people, but explicitly the leadership of both N. Korea and China.
The immediate bottom line: Lee outlined purely defensive economic and military measures, but the DPRK record of disproportionate, often violent reaction to both unilateral and multilateral moves, including sanctions, is clear.
So how will the DPRK react to Lee’s order “suspending” all but humanitarian business and trade (exempting for now a decision on Kaesong Industrial Zone); or to the ROK navy intercepting NK’s commercial shipping in S. Korean waters (for example), or to the joint US-ROK military exercizes just announced?
And, President Obama immediately endorsed “all” of Lee’s steps, while Secretary Clinton, in China for the S&ED, kept up the public pressure on Beijing to get behind a UN Security Council censure of the DPRK over the Cheonan.
That’s why our experts today privately concede increasing anxiety:
“We may not be sliding toward war, but we could be sliding toward a very ugly and potentially violent incident, and who know what might follow?. That’s enough to cause some serious worry, at least as I see it.”
In response, this from a colleague:
“I also agree — the key is that South Koreans have responded in a calibrated and restrained manner. If North Koreans, however, chose to escalate, the ROKs have made it clear they will respond. So the ball is very much in Pyongyang’s court now on whether to escalate or not.”
Finally, this from a Loyal Reader currently Out On The Rim:
“I certainly hope the alert status of US and ROK forces has been raised. The KPA is poised to do something stupid and we need to be ready. I am sure that HRC has delivered the appropriate warnings to the North Koreans through the Chinese. Looking at ROK management of this crisis thus far, they will not fire the first shot. But as I said when we first started this dialogue back in March, they don’t plan on being humiliated again. Keep your seat belts fastened, it’s about to get bumpy.”
Predictions for “the next escalation”? More missile tests, another nuclear test? OK, more UN sanctions, but not per se an “attack” on the ROK. Shooting up ROK personnel on the DMZ…those resuming the propaganda baloon “attacks”, for example? Hummm…so does President Lee authorize shooting back? Then what?
So, buy gold now? This may be grasping at straws, but we grasped two possible amongst the official DPRK statements today: first, a repeat of the interesting demand that S. Korea allow a N. Korean “inspection team” to view the Cheonan wreckage and issue their own findings; second, a rather legalistic argument that Pyongyang played by the rules in withdrawing from the NPT.
Otherwise, the various statements from N. Korea are alternately chilling, and comical, if lunatic bombast is your taste.
ANALYSIS…LEE MYUNG BAK’S SPEECH…FULL TEXT BELOW…
President Lee cited the just-completed international observer’s report blaming the Cheonan sinking on a N. Korean torpedo, called for a United Nations debate on how the attack violates the Korean War UN Armistice, and said from now on, any incursion into ROK waters or airspace would trigger an ROK military response; meanwhile, nearly all commercial trade would be stopped.
Perhaps most “provocatively”, Lee said it’s time to call for regime change in the DPRK in the name of the welfare of its people and stability on the Peninsula; he said the ROK would block any N.Korean merchant ships sailing through ROK waters (although he reserved a decision on whether to pull the plug on the Kaseong Industrial Zone investments) and promised to strengthen US-ROK joint combat readiness.
President Obama immediately issued a statement saying the US “fully supports” President Lee, and declared his policy steps to be “called for and entirely appropriate”.
DOD then announced joint US-ROK naval exercizes, and Sec. St. Clinton reiterated her demand, while in China for the S&ED meetings, that Beijing support the ROK at the United Nations.
With the US already using maximum leverage on China to keep it on board for the UN/Iran nuclear standoff, how far China will be willing to accomodate the US and S. Korea on N. Korea, a country of genuine strategic concern to Beijing, is the cause of pessimism amongst most analysts.
Beijing, sounding increasingly shell-shocked by the pace of events and the pressure being exerted by both Washington and Seoul, again called for “calmness and restraint”, and came out for “maintaining the stability in Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula, promoting the six-party talks and denuclearization of the Peninsula”.
(China also whined about “just a week” between the Cheonan report and President Lee’s speech today.)
But the US has made repeatedly clear it will not agree to a 6PT resumption until the DPRK accepts responsibility for the Cheonan, and even then will be reluctant to return if Pyongyang continues its current stance on the US nuclear umbrella for Japan and the ROK, most analysts warn.
Some analysts privately expressed dismay at the current trajectory in terms of the overall US-China relationship:
“The US is now wedded to LeeMB’s policy of ‘regime change’. This is not where Obama came in, but it’s where we are now. And this has broad policy implications not just for the Peninsula, but across the board of US-China issues.
The overall balance of focus in Beijing remains on the DPRK as a useful ‘buffer’ to the US and the ROK, although it’s certainly true there are more and more critics of the DPRK and China’s support to be found…but the US has really got to be very cautious now, given the risk of a break with China over this in terms of the potentially profound impact on our interests around the world.
Privately, some Chinese officials have said to me ‘we each need to reign-in ‘our’ Koreans…a very unattractive quandry for Obama, but now we are staring down the road toward escalation with the control resting in Seoul and Pyongyang.
In effect, the US has now given S.Korea ‘veto power’ over our policy toward N. Korea!”
Hummm…is that how you see it? Let us know, please.
Meanwhile, the DPRK response via KCNA called Lee a “bastard”, several times, actually, but did repeat its offer last week to send an official “inspection team” to review the Cheonan wreckage and the forensic evidence report. The DPRK still denies the attack, in other words.
Full text of President Lee’s speech, the White House endorsement, China’s short comments, and the DPRK’s colorful rebuttal, below, with our underlines.
CORRECTION…before we forget, Loyal Reader and frequent “Perspective” and other quotes contributor Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation’s Asia Studies program deserves to have his name spelled correctly in our Daily Screed.
We apologize that last Friday we managed to confuse him with Jamie Farr’s cousin…but are glad we managed to pass along his very thorough list of likely US/ROK security cooperation measures.
Among the many witty, trechant remarks of Winston Churchill is “jaw, jaw is better than war, war”.
Whether this tells us more about the 1930′s accent of the British elites than it does about the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula is today’s big question.
Certainly President Lee threw down the rhetorical gauntlet, saying his country would no longer tolerate the murderous adventurism of the DPRK…although he framed most of the coming ROK actions as purely defensive, and in response to whatever Pyongyang might do next.
For now, the US continues to say it will not talk to Pyongyang until and unless it accepts responsibility for attacking the Cheonan, and perhaps not even then, if the 6 Party nuclear talks seem like a repitition of the current stalemate on “denuclearization”.
Loyal Reader Joel Wit, of SAIS, sent along this comment in response to David Straub, Stanford’s Shorenstein Asia Policy Center, in last Friday’s Report…note he fully shares our concerns about the risk of esclation…saying that underscores why the US must re-open lines of communication with Pyongyang:
“Chris, I think David and I have a fundamental disagreement about strategy that maybe doesn’t need to be replayed here. But I would strongly disagree that the North Koreans are rational and therefore understand that in a war they would be destroyed. As we all know, all wars aren’t rational so why anyone would insist on clinging to that thinking is hard to fathom.
But let me give you a historical example of North Korean behavior for your readers to consider. In 1993 when the North withdrew form the NPT, Kim Jong Il headed to the countryside and stayed in hiding for weeks. Why? Because he fully expected the US was going to launch an attack on North Korea. We know that is true. So why would he take such a calculated risk?
Because for Kim, the risk was worth it because everything that was happening–the tightening noose around North Korea’s neck because of nuclear inspections and IAEA demands–was intolerable for a state that treasures above everything else independence and not showing weakness. So sure the North Koreans are rational but everyone has their red lines. And what may not seem rational to us seems perfectly rational to them.
On top of that, there is a significant element of risk-taking here that was also demonstrated by the Cheonan sinking and isn’t going to go away under the current circumstances. Indeed, it may get even worse.
We can and should take measures to strengthen deterrence but will that have any effect on North Korean behavior? What happens if there is another incident in the West Sea? Or if in the course of that incident, the North Koreans open up with shore batteries and the South fires back. Indeed, that seemed about to happen last summer but then Kim Dae Jung died and things calmed down.
Then what? The dangers for escalation here are absolutely present particularly without any contacts to help keep a lid on the situation. So lets stop clinging to old catch-phrases and give this some serious thought.”
So…IS there something to talk about? Consider this intriguing story today from the “authoritative” KCNA. On the one hand, certainly a defiant statement that Pyongyang will not give up its nukes except in the context of overall world nuclear disarmament…a clear non-starter in N. Asia security terms for US policy.
On the other hand, it IS a legalistic, diplomatic argument, and not military retaliation, right? So maybe Joel is right that the Norks DO want to talk, before something happens which no one, not even Dear Leader, can finesse:
Pyongyang, May 24 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK gave the following answer to the question raised by KCNA Monday as regards the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) review conference now underway in New York…
… According to the treaty, the withdrawal from the NPT shall take effect three months after the notification on it, but the DPRK went through all the formalities for the withdrawal stipulated in the treaty, thus finally putting into force its withdrawal in 2003. This proves that the DPRK handled the withdrawal from the NPT in a serious manner, exercising utmost patience even when its supreme state interests were in jeopardy.
In the subsequent period, too, the DPRK manufactured nuclear weapons legitimately by opening to the public all facts in a transparent manner in order to protect the sovereignty of the country and the security of the nation from the increasing U.S. nuclear threat. By all accounts, it was the U.S. that compelled the DPRK to pull out of the NPT and have access to nukes.
…The DPRK had never violated the NPT even before its withdrawal from it. There have been breaches of only Paragraph 6 stipulating the nuclear weapons states’ commitment to nuclear disarmament so far. Four decades have passed since the NPT took effect but the destructive power of nuclear weapons existing on the earth has further increased, far from being dismantled in this period.
This treaty should not have been extended for an indefinite period from the outset as it recognizes the existence of nuclear weapons states. It should have been replaced by a worldwide treaty for eliminating nuclear weapons. In order to build a world without nuclear weapons, it is necessary to step up nuclear disarmament so as to deprive the treaty of any justification to exist, far from allowing the NPT to remain in force for an indefinite period.
PRESIDENT LEE MYUNG BAK’S SPEECH…COMPLETE TEXT:-
I am standing here today, keenly aware that the Korean Peninsula is facing a critical turning point.
My fellow citizens,
The Cheonan was sunk by a surprise North Korean torpedo attack. Again, the perpetrator was North Korea. Their attack came at a time when the people of the Republic of Korea were enjoying their well-earned rest after a hard day’s work. Once again, North Korea violently shattered our peace.
The sinking of the Cheonan constitutes a military provocation against the Republic of Korea by North Korea.
Since the end of the Korean War, the North has perpetrated incessant armed provocations against us, including the bombing attack against the presidential delegation at the Aung San Martyr’s Mausoleum in Myanmar and the bombing in midair of Korean Air Flight 858. The North Koreans, however, have never officially admitted the crimes they committed. This time is no different. They continue to insist that my Government fabricated the sinking of the Cheonan.
I am not surprised by such North Korean behavior and this was the reason why I emphasized, from the very beginning, the importance of conducting a thorough and objective scientific investigation into the incident. I also asked the nation to exercise patience and self-restraint. It was important for us not to come to any hasty conclusion until the results of the investigation came out.
Finally, on May 20th, the international joint investigation group released their conclusive findings, backed by definitive evidences. With the release of the final report, no responsible country in the international community will be able to deny the fact that the Cheonan was sunk by North Korea.
We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula. But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts. I will continue to take stern measures to hold the North accountable.
From this moment, no North Korean ship will be allowed to make passage through any of the shipping lanes in the waters under our control, which has been allowed by the Inter-Korean Agreement on Maritime Transportation. The sea routes meant for inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation must never again be used for armed provocations.
Trade and exchanges between the Republic of Korea and North Korea will also be suspended. We still remember the killing of an innocent South Korean tourist by a North Korean armed guard at the Mt. Kumgang resort. More recently, North Korea unilaterally confiscated South Korean assets at this same resort. Worse yet, the North sank the Cheonan taking the precious lives of our young sailors. Under these circumstances, any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless.
However, we will continue to provide assistance for infants and children. Matters pertaining to the Kaesong Industrial Complex will be duly considered, taking its unique characteristics into consideration.
From now on, the Republic of Korea will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain the principle of proactive deterrence. If our territorial waters, airspace or territory are violated, we will immediately exercise our right of self-defense.
The North’s military provocation against the Cheonan on March 26 violated the Charter of the United Nations and contravened the existing agreements reached for the sake of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, including the Korean War Armistice Agreement and the Basic Agreement between South and North Korea.
In close consultations with the nations concerned, the Government will refer this matter to the UN Security Council, so that the international community can join us in holding the North accountable. Many countries around the world have expressed their full support for our position.
I solemnly urge the North Korean authorities to do the following. Apologize immediately to the Republic of Korea and the international community. Immediately punish those who are responsible for and those who were involved in the incident. These are basic measures that the North has to take before anything else. If the North continues to make excuses and wild assertions as it has always done in the past, they will not find any place to stand in the world.
My fellow Koreans and our compatriots in North Korea,
The overriding goal of the Republic of Korea is not military confrontation. Our goal has always been the attainment of real peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Our goal is to bring about prosperity for all Koreans. Our vision is to realize the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. The Republic of Korea is no longer what it once was-an impoverished nation, suffering from the scars of war. Rising above the ruins of war, the Republic of Korea has achieved an impressive miracle of progress guided by the constitutional foundations of liberal democracy and a free market economy. The Republic of Korea is continuing its confident march toward the center stage of the world.
All countries across the globe are competing with one another to ensure the prosperity of their own citizens. At the same time, all nations are working together for the sake of co-prosperity and peace in the global community. The entire world is changing. Changes are taking place faster than ever.
But, what is the situation in North Korea? Nothing has changed over the last sixty years. It is a country still holding onto an empty ambition of forcefully reuniting the Korean Peninsula under the banner of communism. It is a country that still believes in making threats and committing terrorist activities. North Korea’s goal is to instigate division and conflict.
For what reason and for whom is it doing what it does?
As compatriots, I am truly ashamed.
It is now time for the North Korean regime to change.
Today, no country can maintain peace and make economic development on its own. It is imperative to conduct exchanges and cooperate with the world and to join the path that everyone else is taking. It is time to look at reality and make that courageous decision. It is time for the North Korean regime to start thinking about what is truly good for the regime itself and its people.
The Korean Peninsula must not be left standing as the danger zone in Northeast Asia. The two Koreas must take the initiative and resolve this problem. The Peninsula must become a new cradle of world peace.
Permeating this War Memorial of Korea are the spirits of the soldiers of the Republic of Korea and United Nations who shed blood on this land. Also dedicated here was the monument memorializing the 46 fallen warriors of the corvette Cheonan.
Through the Cheonan tragedy, we learned a painful lesson once again. We had been forgetting the reality that the nation faces the most belligerent regime in the world.
We have to admit that our Armed Forces made mistakes as well. On the occasion of this incident, the Government will solidify the national security readiness. The discipline of the Armed Forces will be reestablished, military reform efforts will be expedited and combat capabilities will be reinforced drastically. The ROK-US joint combat readiness will be further strengthened on the basis of strong ROK-US alliance.
Public awareness of the importance of national security will be strengthened as well. We must never waver in the face of threats, provocations and divisive schemes by the North. We must become one when it comes to national security.
Regardless of how rough the storm may be, we will continue to walk steadily on the path toward a prosperous nation, a compassionate society and a strong country.
The great people of the Republic of Korea will build an even greater country.
Let us all join forces and march forward together.
Thank you very much.
WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL STATEMENT…Robert Gibbs
President Obama fully supports President Lee in his handling of the ROKS Cheonan incident and the objective investigation that followed. The measures that the government of the Republic of Korea announced today are called for and entirely appropriate. The Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States, as President Obama has made clear.
Specifically, we endorse President Lee’s demand that North Korea immediately apologize and punish those responsible for the attack, and, most importantly, stop its belligerent and threatening behavior. U.S. support for South Korea’s defense is unequivocal, and the President has directed his military commanders to coordinate closely with their Republic of Korea counterparts to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression. We will build on an already strong foundation of excellent cooperation between our militaries and explore further enhancements to our joint posture on the Peninsula as part of our ongoing dialogue.
As President Lee stated in his address earlier today, the Republic of Korea intends to bring this issue to the United Nations Security Council. We support this move. Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice are each consulting very closely with their Korean counterparts, as well as with Japan, China, and other UN Security Council member states in order to reach agreement on the steps in the Council.
In response to the pattern of North Korean provocation and defiance of international law, the President has directed U.S. government agencies to review their existing authorities and policies related to the DPRK. This review is aimed at ensuring that we have adequate measures in place and to identify areas where adjustments would be appropriate.
The U.S. will continue to work with the Republic of Korea and other allies and partners to reduce the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability. Secretary Clinton is currently in Beijing and she will travel to Seoul for discussions with President Lee and his senior advisors on May 26 before reporting back to the President on her consultations in the region. Secretary Gates is in close contact with ROK Defense Minister Kim and will meet with him and other counterparts at the June 4-6 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. President Obama and President Lee agreed to meet in Canada at the time of the G-20 Summit.
CHINA’S OFFICIAL RESPONSE
BEIJING, May 24 (Xinhua) — China Monday urged parties involved in disputes over the sinking of a Republic of Korean (ROK) naval warship to exercise restraint to avoid the escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula.
China hopes the parties to maintain calmness and restraint and to properly deal with relevant issues, Chinese spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said during the second round of the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogues (S&ED) Monday in Beijing.
He said the Chinese and U.S. sides touched upon many important international and regional issues during the talks, including the issue of the sunken Cheonan corvette. Ma, spokesman for the S&ED’s strategic track talks, told the press that China had been highly concerned about the development of the warship sinking issue and had clearly expressed its stance on the matter.
“China has always been committed to maintaining the stability in Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula, promoting the six-party talks and denuclearization of the Peninsula,” said Ma.
He added that international and regional matters such as the sinking of the warship should be handled in an objective and fair manner and based on facts.
The ROK unveiled Monday a series of punitive measures against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), less than one week after an international team of investigators invited by the ROK announced their findings and blamed DPRK for sinking the warship in late March, which killed 46 sailors, in a torpedo attack.
Pyongyang has denied any involvement and threatened an “all-out war” in case sanction was imposed.
SECRETARY CLINTON TO THE PRESS:
First, we endorse President Lee’s call on North Korea to come forward with the facts regarding this act of aggression and, above all, stop its belligerence and threatening behavior.
Second, our support for South Korea’s defense is unequivocal, and President Obama has directed his military commanders to coordinate closely with their Korean counterparts to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression. As part of our ongoing dialogue, we will explore further enhancements to our joint posture on the Peninsula.
Third, we support President Lee’s call to bring this issue to the United Nations Security Council. I will be working with Ambassador Rice and our Korean counterparts, as well as Japan, China, and other UN Security Council member states to reach agreement on a way forward in the Council.
Fourth, President Obama has directed U.S. Government agencies to review their existing authorities and policies related to North Korea, to ensure that we have adequate measures in place, and to identify areas where adjustments would be appropriate.
As I have said, the path that will lead North Korea to security and prosperity is to stop its provocative behavior, halt its policy of threats and belligerence toward its neighbors, and take irreversible steps to fulfill its denuclearization commitments, and comply with international law…
I will be glad to take your questions.
Q- Regarding the military coordination that the President has ordered, will that include such things as joint anti-submarine warfare measures to try to prevent precisely this kind of incident from happening again? And you’ve said that you will — that you fully support South Korea taking this matter to the UN Security Council. Do you think that North Korea should actually face additional sanctions, sanctions that go beyond 1874, in the Council?
Clinton: with respect to your specific question about the state-sponsor of terrorism list, the United States will apply the law as the facts warrant. The legislation, as you know, sets out specific criteria for the Secretary of State to base a determination. And the Department of State continually reviews North Korea’s actions to determine if the evidence supports its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. If the evidence warrants, the Department of State will take action…
Q- And also, how serious is this situation? I mean, are you concerned this could escalate into a war? Thank you.
Clinton -As I said in my statement earlier today, we have cooperated very well with China to respond to North Korea’s provocative actions last year, and we are discussing how we will be able to cooperate equally effectively in this context, as well. It is part of the — obviously, a category of its own, when it comes to the strategic and economic dialogue.
But I have to say that we are off to a very good start, with respect to the dialogues. We spent in a very small group at dinner last night about two-and-a-half hours discussing important matters. I have just completed another small group discussion with about — of about two-and-a-half hours. So, the Chinese are taking this very seriously, and recognize the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. And we will continue to work with them on the way forward.
We are working hard to avoid an escalation of belligerence and provocation. This is a highly precarious situation that the North Koreans have caused in the region. And it is one that every country that neighbors or is in proximity to North Korea understands must be contained. So that is what we are working to achieve. And, at the same time, to send a message to North Korea that we are not simply resuming business as usual, that we intend to work with the international community to create a climate in which both consequences are felt by North Korea, and working to change their behavior, going forward, to avoid the kind of escalation that would be very regrettable.
N. KOREA’S RESPONSE…note the adjectives…but then the repeated offer to send an “inspection team”…
DPRK’s NDC Spokesman Decries ROK President’s 24 May ‘Address to People’
DPRK National Defense Commission spokesman’s answer: “Traitorous Gang Can Never Shirk Responsibility of Concocting Anti-Republic Farce”
“Traitorous Gang Can Never Shirk Responsibility of Concocting Anti-Republic Farce” — DPRK National Defense Commission (NDC) spokesman’s answer traitor (yo’kto) Lee Myung-bak (Ri Myo’ng-pak; Yi Myo’ng-pak), who has been cornered since we clarified at home and abroad our principled position on the incident of the ship Ch’o'nan’s sinking, took it upon his bastard self (chenom) to announce a so-called address to the people on 24 May.
Regarding this, a spokesman for the DPRK NDC gave the following answer to a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reporter’s question on 24 May:
The address to the people that traitor Lee Myung-bak issued is another clumsy farce aimed at concealing the identity of the fabrication and a farce the bastard himself enthusiastically threw himself into cooking up and a sophism by an anti-Republic confrontation fanatic gone crazy with crushing his fellow countrymen.
This is a specially gross crime completely negating and abrogating the historic 15 June Joint Declaration and its practical program, the 4 October Declaration.
We already know more than well that traitor Lee yung-nak, having received a directive from his master, concocted a fabrication and farce to secretly hurt his fellow countrymen in a hurry in order to pursue sinister objectives.
In this vein, the address to the people that the traitor prattled is but a trick he is using for fear that the fabrication and farce that the master and the henchman put their heads together and cooked up might be exposed.
This is the very reason why he cannot accept our NDC inspection team even though he is loudly publicizing about scientific and objective investigation results.
If the traitorous gang (yo’kcho’k p’aedang) does not have anything to be ashamed of, it ought to accept our inspection team.
The traitorous gang must keep in mind that it can never shirk the responsibility of concocting the clumsy fabrication and farce against us.