A Bi­ble and a gas mask: New nor­mal in S. Korea

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY BEN BIRN­BAUM

SEOUL | At down­town Seoul’s posh Kore­ana Ho­tel, ev­ery room has a night­stand with a Bi­ble, a room-ser­vice menu — and a gas mask.

Call it the new nor­mal in South Korea.

A year of in­creased ten­sion with nu­clear-armed North Korea has shat­tered the hopes held by many South Kore­ans who wished for bet­ter re­la­tions with their ag­gres­sive, com­mu­nist neigh­bor.

In March 2010, a North Korean sub­ma­rine sank a South Korean naval ship, the Cheo­nan, killing 46 sea­men. In Novem­ber, the North fired nearly 200 ar­tillery shells at the South Korean is­land of Yeon­pyeong, hit­ting mil­i­tary and civil­ian sites and killing four peo­ple.

Two weeks ago, jumpy South Korean marines fired ri­fles at a civil­ian air­liner land­ing in Seoul, af­ter mis­tak­ing it for a North Korean war­plane. No one on the Asiana Air­lines flight from China was in­jured.

“Be­fore Cheo­nan and Yeon­pyeong, there was de­nial and a kind of nos­tal­gic feel­ing to­ward North Korea,” said Choi Kang, pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of For­eign Af­fairs and Na­tional Se­cu­rity.

He said many South Kore­ans thought “we should have bet­ter re­la­tions with North Korea. We should pro­vide food aid, blah, blah, blah.”

“Since the at­tacks, South Kore­ans’ gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of North Korea has be­come very neg­a­tive, and I don’t think it’s re­versible at this point in time,” he added.

The bom­bard­ment of Yeon­pyeong Is­land marked the first time Py­ongyang had at­tacked South Korean ter­ri­tory since the Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty.

“Prior to this, tar­gets were mil­i­tary. Tar­gets were kind of lo­cal­ized,” said Army Maj. Gen. Larry Wells, deputy chief of staff for U.S. forces in Korea.

“I think prior to the sink­ing of the Cheo­nan, a ma­jor­ity of South Korean cit­i­zens would say, ‘ We know North Korea is there. We know what’s oc­cur­ring there, but we don’t think they’d ever at­tack us.’ “

South Korean Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak re­sponded to the at­tacks by sus­pend­ing the largescale aid that dovish pre­de­ces­sors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun had pro­vided al­most un­con­di­tion­ally.

Chun Young-woo, se­nior sec­re­tary to the pres­i­dent on na­tional se­cu­rity and for­eign af- fairs, said Mr. Lee has the “same goal” as Mr. Kim and Mr. Roh but ar­gued that their so­called “Sun­shine Pol­icy” had given Py­ongyang a dan­ger­ous sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

“Un­der the Sun­shine Pol­icy, we used to pro­vide abun­dant food and fer­til­izer and al­most ever ything North Korea wanted,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, North Korea faces “regu- lar, sig­nif­i­cant food short­ages.”

“North Korea could dic­tate the terms of in­ter-Korean re­la­tions,” Mr. Chun said. “And when­ever we had talks with them, they were not grate­ful. They said, ‘This is the tribute you have to pay for peace, and we will keep our nu­clear weapons.’ They took it for granted.”

South Kore­ans have dra­mat­i­cally turned against aid­ing North Korea since the two at­tacks. Sup­port for cut­ting or abol­ish­ing aid to the North in­creased to 57 per­cent from 32 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a poll by the East Asia In­sti­tute at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore.

Seoul also is de­mand­ing an apol­ogy for the at­tacks be­fore it re­sumes talks with the North.

“When it comes to of­fi­cial, high-level di­a­logue on po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity af­fairs, I don’t think that we can just pre­tend as if noth­ing oc­curred last year, that we can just shake hands and smile,” Mr. Chun said.

“That doesn’t mean ev­ery­thing will be re­solved with an apol­ogy. If in­ter-Korean re­la­tions are go­ing to change fun­da­men­tally, we re­quire de­nu­clear iza­tion,” he added, re­flect­ing his gov­ern­ment’s de­sire for the elim­i­na­tion of nu­clear weapons on the Korean Penin­sula.

While most South Kore­ans are blam­ing the com­mu­nist North for in­creas­ing ten­sions, Mr. Lee’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents are blam­ing him.

“If the cur­rent gov­ern­ment’s North Korean poli­cies had suc­ceeded, we would not have had ei­ther of the two at­tacks,” said Park Joo-sun, a lead­ing law­maker from the lib­eral Demo­cratic Party.

BEN BIRN­BAUM/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

At Seoul’s Kore­ana Ho­tel, guests are pro­vided a Bi­ble and a gas mask a sign of South Kore­ans’ grow­ing sus­pi­cions of North Korea’s mil­i­tar y in­ten­tions. Re­cent in­ci­dents have damp­ened hopes for im­proved re­la­tions.

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