Peter Beck, Northeast Asia project director at the International Crisis Group, had a nice little chat with Yonhap recently. Beck sees relations between the US and Korea becoming strained over the (anti-unification) Gaeseong Industrial complex. Here is the interview:
"Finding a common approach (between Seoul and Washington) to dealing with North Korea is increasingly difficult. Kaesong is a perfect example," Beck said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.
He said it would be impossible for South Korea to achieve its goal of including goods made in Kaesong in its free trade agreement with any U.S. government.
There is across-the-board concern even among American labor unions about the transparency of North Koreans' working conditions in the complex, which also damages Washington's campaign to put financial shackles on Pyongyang, he said.
"Kaesong is not just an area for the best hope for North-South cooperation but it is also one of biggest potential points of conflict between Washington and Seoul," he said.
Given North Korea's propensity for trying to drive wedges between the US and Korea, Beck thinks they will eventually (I'd say once again) play the 'we are one race' card (read on):
Kaesong could also be used as a tool for North Korea to drive a wedge between South Korea and the U.S., which are already experiencing strained ties, according to the U.S. analyst working at the independent and non-profit think tank headquartered in Brussels.
"What I am expecting is that North Korea at some point will play a 'Minjokgiri card' (which literally translates as 'the Korean people for themselves'). They will exploit this 'we are one Korean people' notion to try to reach out to South Korea, trying to split Seoul and Washington," he said.
"Given North Korea's history of splitting China and the Soviet Union, I am waiting for them to do something provocative and at the same time try to reach out to South Korea in some way," he said.
He expected North Korea to act in a more provocative way potentially even with missile or even nuclear test to get the world's attention, using South Korea and China as a shield.
Beck also points out that Pyeongyang is playing Seoul for a sucker by trying to get it to compete China over who gets to become the most involved with the North Korean money pit:
As for South Koreans' worries over China's growing influence on the North, Beck said that Pyongyang will seek a bidding war between Seoul and Beijing, which would also present Seoul with a dilemma.
"Pyongyang is very happy to have Seoul and Beijing at the same time because in some way Seoul has replaced the Soviet Union as North Korea's benefactor," he said. "In the past they could exploit the rivalry between Beijing and Moscow. Now they can take advantage of the potential rivalry between Seoul and Beijing."
He likened Beijing-Pyongyang ties to a marriage contract.
"There is no great love or even trust between Beijing and Pyongyang. They are far from ideological or cultural soul mates. Mutual needs rather than mutual commitment," he said.
North Korea is a tar baby and money sent in is money thrown down a black hole as long as the current regime is still in power there. The question is how long will Seoul allow itself to play the role of a sucker. Hopefully, (Anti-)unification Minister Lee Jong-seok's recent criticism of North Korea signals a tougher line, but I fear it is just covering the Roh administration's flank for the next round of Kim Jong-il coddling.
There is much more, so go read it all.