President Kim Jong-un of North Korea has received worldwide attention for his New Year’s Day speech in which he called for a lessening of tensions between his nation and South Korea, and his ackowledgement of the poor state of the economy. But, the words rang hollow, given Kim’s decision to proceed with the launching of a long-range rocket carrying a satellite.
The successful space flight last month laid to rest doubts about North Korea’s technological abilities, fueled by last April’s unsuccessful satellite launch.
The country is banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions from developing a ballistic missile program, and the long-range rocket is viewed by South Korea and the United States as capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
No one, other than perhaps China, is buying the North’s claim that the goal was to put a “scientific and technological satellite” in space for peaceful exploration.
Kim’s talk of reunification and an end to the confrontation between the two Koreas flies in the face of his commitment to strengthening the military and developing advanced weapons.
He is misreading the world’s view of his country, just as his late father, President Kim Jong-il, did. Neither South Korea nor any other nation in the region has any desire to invade and take over that godforsaken land.
The South’s economic prowess and its standing in the world provides a vivid contrast to the economic wasteland that is the north.
Despite the government’s attempt to hide the truth, credible non-governmental organizations have revealed mass starvation and the deprivation of basic goods and services. Children and the elderly are at greatest risk.
Yet, the government spent $600 million on the two rocket launches, according to the Washington Post, which quoted South Korean government officials.
In total, the Kim government spent $1.3 billion on its rocket program in 2012, which the South Korean government says is enough to buy 4.6 million tons of corn, according to Post.
Another South Korean official told the newspaper that the North has invested as much as $3.2 billion in nuclear weapons and missile development over the years, equivalent to three years’ supply of food for its citizens.
Why, then, isn’t there a popular uprising against the regime? Because Kim, like his father and grandfather before him, rules with an iron fist.
Critics of the government in Pyongyang are either sent to labor camps, or simply disappear.
China, which has expressed regret over the long-range rocket launch, is not expected to end large amount of aid it delivers to North Korea.
It is possible, however, that the Chinese will reassess their relationship with Kim should he continue down the path of nuclear armament. Such destabilization of the region is not to China’s economic advantage.
If Kim is sincere about building bridges, rather than weapons, he will abandon the nuclear program and focus his attention on developing the nation’s economy.