A former U.S. diplomat’s inexplicable defense of Kim Jong-Un

Special to WorldTribune.com

DonKirk3By Donald Kirk, EastAsiaIntel.com

Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to Korea, makes an astounding statement in a piece published after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test.

Striking “a very positive note,” he praises “the performance of Kim Jong-Un in improving the North Korean economy and downplaying nuclear threats and nuclear weapons development.”

It is difficult to comprehend, in the aftermath of the latest test, how Gregg came up with quite such an observation. Gregg, who served as CIA station chief before his appointment as ambassador, compounds this craziness in the next sentence in which he states that “Kim is repairing his relations with China” while “adopting a North Korean version of ‘strategic patience’ toward us.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg in Beijing after a 2014 visit to North Korea.
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg in Beijing after a 2014 visit to North Korea.

No doubt Kim and all the sycophants around him would love for North Korea’s economy to get better, but really that is not happening while he invests more funds on producing nukes and missiles capable of carrying miniaturized warheads to distant targets. Certainly the rhetoric, far from lowering the threat level, suggests North Korea’s determination to develop more and “better” nukes in hope of intimidating the U.S. into a “peace treaty” that would require withdrawal of U.S. forces while ending the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

Nor is Kim getting along better with China, which has avoided inviting him to Beijing since he assumed power after the death of his father, the long-ruling Kim Jong-Il, more than four years ago. The Chinese were taken aback when they heard the all-female Moranbong troupe from North Korea would feature images of missiles and nukes in its program in Beijing last month.

When high Chinese officials said they would not attend, the troupe was called home without giving a single performance.

As for Kim Jong-Un making his first visit to Beijing as “supreme leader,” how can the Chinese entertain him when he is clearly not open to their advice to go easy on the nuclear program? It seemed hardly coincidental that he ordered the North’s fourth nuclear test three days before his 32nd birthday, just as he ordered the third test three days before what would have been his father’s 72nd birthday in February 2013.

In the process, moderates have totally lost out in factional struggles inside North Korea. The latest victim was Kim Yang-Gon, in charge of dealings with South Korea. His death last month in a motor vehicle “accident” was the latest in a series of similar misfortunes that have befallen those whose views did not conform with the hardliners. He had visited Beijing several times and had joined North Korea’s second-ranking leader, Hwang Pyong-So, in talks with the South Koreans in Panmunjom for resolving the August mini-crisis on the DMZ.

The Chinese cannot be happy about the demise of Kim Yang-Gon, just as they were upset by the fate of Kim Jong-Un’s uncle-in-law, Jang Song-Taek, who was believed to be more or less a regent, the North’s second-highest leader, until his execution in December 2013. Jang, more than anyone, had forged close relations with China on economic issues.

So what can or will the Chinese do now? They do not believe in toughened sanctions, and they probably will not significantly slow the flow of oil or food into the North, but they might manipulate funding, investment and trade.

If the Chinese do not pressure the North, as they are able to do, the United States, South Korea and Japan will have to cooperate more closely to stand up against North Korean threats. That is one more reason for China to hold North Korea in check in the interests of not just stability on the Korean Peninsula but China’s power position in Northeast Asia.

All that, of course, is contrary to the thinking of Donald Gregg, who hopes Kim Jong-Un, at the Workers’ Party Congress in May, its first in 36 years, “will officially announce economic development as his primary goal, having established a satisfactory level of nuclear deterrence.”

Incredibly, Gregg writes “such a non-threatening posture would make it easier for moderates in South Korea to reach out to the North with more confidence and enthusiasm.”

Just what might be “non-threatening,” however, about a “satisfactory” nuclear program? How much would a list of economic goals, as the North has often proclaimed, really mean? “Therein lies the best hope for North-South reconciliation,” Gregg believes. In fact, therein lies wishful thinking at its most fatuous.

In recent years Gregg has justified North Korean nukes for “self-defense” as needed to counter American threats, but how many more tests of nukes and long-range missiles will he and Kim Jong-Un deem necessary for “deterrence”? Would anyone other than a pro-North advocate find them at all “satisfactory”? Gregg might address these questions in his next rationalization for North Korea’s nuclear program.

Donald Kirk, www.donaldkirk.com, has been covering the nuclear debate since North and South Korea signed their “Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in December 1991. He is at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.