The North Korean delegation that visited South Korea to pay respects to the deceased Kim Dae-Jung on behalf of the North’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-Il, brought with them an olive branch. This presented a ray of hope in helping ease the tensions across the peninsula. The North Koreans sudden change of heart has surprised many analysts; as they believed it would be some time before North Korea will return to peaceful negotiation with its southern counterpart.
Some analysts may see this as UN sanctions on the North having their effect, but there could be more to the North’s peace gesture. Since President Lee Myung-bak came to power and ended soft-handed approaches in dealing with the North, Kim Jong-Il has been plotting Lee’s fall from grace. North Korea is determined to make sure that the South Korean government returns to the late Kim Dae-Jung’s ‘Sunshine Policy’, which includes unconditional aid to the North.
President Lee’s rule has been marred by constant protests against his policies, like the resumption of beef imports from the US, and by the anger of Buddhists who see him as biased in favour of Christians. Friction is also mounting between Lee’s conservative party and its liberal rivals. North Korea may see an opportunity to exploit these weaknesses of Lee’s administration.
The North Korean regime may have envisioned the fall of Lee Myun-bak by the hands of the former South Korean President, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Lee’s predecessors are angered by Lee’s hardline policy, which does not coincide with the spirit of the “Sunshine Policy” that the two former presidents stress is essential for peace on the Korean peninsula.
Roh, though retired before his death, still remained an icon of democracy and liberty to millions of South Koreans, and Lee is finding it extremely difficult to get out of his shadow. Lee is also finding it hard to compete with Roh’s charm offensive and almost heroic status amongst his millions of lifetime supporters. Roh put Lee in a situation where it is getting difficult for Lee to implement policies that run counter those of his predecessor without being marred by Roh’s supporters.
Also, the late Kim Dae-jung, the man some refer to as “the Nelson Mandela of Asia”, criticized Lee for deliberately breaking up inter-Korean relations and cited Lee’s “Vision 3000”, a policy in which North Korea will gain assistance in pushing its GDP to $3000 if it disarms its nuclear weapons, saying it will “eventually fail.” Kim Dae-jung also calling upon all opposition parties to form an alliance to oppose President Lee.
North Korea sees that the odds against Lee are too hard to ignore and that his fall from grace needs a little push. Pyongyang may have been using military confrontation and the breaking-off of relations to mount pressure on the conservative government that has already taken several blows. With some pressure, Lee’s fragile government will likely crumble and make way for a liberal government whose policies the North would find more comforting.
Pyongyang began stepping up tension across the peninsula in the hope of adding to the public and political discontent with President Lee. Moves such as demanding higher wages and land rental in the Kaesong Industrial complex put the conservative administration under pressure. North Korea threatens to close Kaesong Industrial Park if the South Korean does not agree to their exorbitant demands. This has sent panic across the South Korean population because the Kaesong Park, the last remaining conciliatory project between the two nations, is now under threat.
The Communist regime declared the armistice treaty of 1953 to be null and raised severe opposition to Lee from anti-war and unification organizations, which criticized his policy as provocative. Firing long-range and ballistic missiles sent shockwaves as the possibility of an all-out war reaches its highest point in almost a decade.
The North Korean government has been insinuating that the previous liberal South Korean government was the only one that can bring peace to the Korean peninsula. Kim believed that the two previous late presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, would use their stature to pressure Lee to step down.
But Roh died earlier this year, apparently having commited suicide after being implemented in a scandal. Despite Lee being blamed for Roh’s death, it ultimately freed him from Roh’s shadow and gave him more freedom. This also weakened the opposition party who wished to cash in on Roh’s popularity and bring down Lee.
North Korea still held on strong with provocative acts, as it still had one horse left in the race, Kim Dae-Jung. But the table now has turned on Pyongyang, since the only person that can help take down Lee as president and help reinstate the Sunshine Policy has now passed away.The cost of the missiles fired and the launching of their rocket has been a costly venture into the millions of dollars. Also, the Kaesong episode has made the North Korean look unreliable and unstable in the eyes of partners in future dealings. The United Nation sanctions aren’t doing the cash-strapped regime any favors, and now with the death of the two former Presidents, Pyongyang has lost their aces. Lee, despite the odds, has now come out stronger. Though it was close, Pyongyang can ill afford another gamble and now must cut their losses.