Joshua PollackFriendship without Benefits: North Korea Doesn’t Want Uncle Sam’s Dollars

Korean Workers’ Party Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol is in New York today to see Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in what seems to be a pivotal moment for determining whether a June 12 date for a U.S.-North Korean summit is within reach. A symbolic, “goodwill” meeting ought to be possible by that date, but what about a summit that yields a substantive, detailed agreement? The prospects don’t look good.

The American approach, as articulated by President Trump and Secretary Pompeo on various occasions, has been that North Korea will completely divest itself of its nuclear weapons and its nuclear program, and once it’s done with that process–or has reached some very advanced milestone–the United States will sweep in with “benefits” in the form of aid or massive investment. North Korea will become wealthy and secure as a result.

That’s not at all how Kim Jong Un seems to see it. The differences between the two sides are so great that one really must wonder what passed between him and Pompeo during their two meetings in Pyongyang.

The pointed May 16 memorandum issued in the name of First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, rejecting talk of a “Libya model” for disarmament, spells out the view from Pyongyang:

The U.S. is trumpeting as if it would offer economic compensation and benefit in case we abandon nuke. But we have never had any expectation of U.S. support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future, either.

Unfortunately, judging by this tweet from last weekend, that message does not seem to have penetrated:

Eric Talmadge, the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief, has written an insightful analysis of official North Korean views of American offers of aid [link fixed]. He notes in particular an editorial in Rodong Sinmun–the official daily newspaper of the Korean Workers’ Party–that appeared on the same day, portraying an American role in the North Korean economy as downright dangerous.

Snippets of the editorial appeared in KCNA, but they didn’t do it justice. Even the AP account doesn’t fully convey its flavor. Like the Kim Gye Gwan statement, it touches on the sad case of Libya, but it goes further, linking economics and security in a perhaps unexpected way. Specifically, it portrays the U.S. military threat to North Korea as paired with a campaign of ideological subversion, which will be spearheaded by U.S. intervention in the economy. Thus, any offer of aid or investment in exchange for disarmament is actually a pincer movement against the regime.

The editorialist’s reasoning goes like this: building up a strong, American-influenced, private-sector economy is meant to undermine the Party’s grip on North Korean society and inspire an uprising against it. As in Libya, the U.S. and its allies would then back an insurrection. The regime would be helpless to deter this intervention, having divested itself of its most powerful weapons. The country would be destroyed. Check and mate.

Faced with this interpretation of the American bargaining position–a paranoid view, but not exactly crazy, if you think about it–it’s not so hard to see why, as NBC News reported last night, the U.S. intelligence community is bearish on North Korean disarmament, and, as the Washington Post reports today, the two sides remain far apart after the first round of working-level talks. Oh, to be a fly on the wall today in New York.

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Newly minted CNS research associate Grace Liu has–graciously, as always–turned around a quick translation of the editorial despite being on the road for meetings. Readers of Korean can see the original here. Grace’s translation appears below. Any errors are, am I sure, due to time pressure and jet lag.

“We must confront the imperialist front”

In the international arena, oppressive actions by imperialists [i.e., the United States] are becoming more and more domineering.

Intervention in other states’ affairs and aggressive warfare globally has put the world in disarray. Many nations and the people are suffering, and this will not be alleviated without removing the imperialist manipulators in power.

Even then, few feel free to speak out or fight against this imperialist oppression and aggression.

Some countries act mildly by taking the path of compromise and concession.

Imperialists are obsequious before the powerful and commit atrocities against the weak.

Yielding to imperialists and choosing to make compromises with them is essentially a death sentence.

The aggressive nature of imperialism is constant: to invade and take over other nations and people until they die is inherent to the very nature of imperialism. If anything changes in imperialists, it is not their aggressive nature, but their method of aggression.

To deal with this imperialism–especially the U.S.–with the aid they provide is a subversive, revolutionary act that is contrary to the anti-American fight.

Conceding and retreating in the struggle against the enemies, including the imperialists, are also a death sentence.

History engraves the lesson that we must fight the imperialists and not entertain fantasies about them.

When the Soviet Union was unwavering, the United States faced a stalemate. Even so, the traitor against socialism [apparently a reference to Mikhail Gorbachev] assumed the upper hand and demanded the disintegration of the Soviet Union. One step towards concession turned into ten steps, then a hundred steps, and eventually the Soviet Union was destroyed.

The same happened with Iraq. After the war, the United States imposed sanctions and pressure on Iraq, accusing them of “human rights abuses” and “developing weapons of mass destruction.” Instead of stubbornly opposing it, Iraq folded. Iraq has not been able to say one squeak about the United States setting up a no-fly zone over its own country, and it has acceded to all of its demands, even allowing UN weapons inspectors to inspect the presidential palace. Iraq’s military strength weakened. For the U.S., Iraq was a rice cake for all to consume. The United States crushed Iraq with force and then occupied this territory.

The tragic reality of Libya, once known as a regional power and relatively stable domestically, shows that conceding to imperialists only brings social disorder and chaos, and misery and suffering to the people.

The U.S. had long wanted to overthrow Gadhafi, who held strong anti-American sentiments. But in the wake of the 9.11 incident, Gadhafi began to feel disheartened when the September 11th attack led to an all-out “anti-terrorist” strategy, with the U.S. allegedly pushing for nuclear deterrent and publicly advocating a nuclear strike strategy. The United States, in its occupation of Iraq, persistently incentivized the country to revive itself in way other than strengthening its national defense. You would be surprised if you were asked to give up your self-defense in return for “assistance.”

Libya continued down the path to make concessions to the U.S., not knowing that it would have to strip all the way down to its underwear.

These concessions led to misery.

At the time, crude oil was the center of the economy. It was the pillar, and it accounted for a bulk of the total exports. This turned into full-fledged imperialism when they sought to acquire Libya’s huge crude oil and natural gas market. After Libya declared that it would not continue to strengthen its defense capabilities, the Western powers flew to Libya. This was not meant to improve relations with Libya, but to fight over its crude oil resources.

Even years after Gadhafi’s political surrender, the Western powers, including the United States, artificially stir up rebellions. While they infringe upon states’ sovereignties daily, they disintegrated Libya under the slogan of “freedom” and “democracy” and “defending human rights.”

Libyan citizens were hopeful that once the Gadhafi was removed from power, that they would benefit from “democracy” and that life would be better. But the dream was nothing but a delusion. There have been hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The people of this country finally realized warmongering nature of the U.S., but it was too late.

Imperialism does not offer peace to the people and does not want them to live freely. The sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the nation can only be defended by fighting against the imperialists. People can progressively build new societies in a peaceful environment without wars. The biggest obstacle to this is imperialist aggression. It does not allow the independent development and prosperity of other countries, but it only forces them to obey.

Imperialists seek to occupy revolutionary nations, invade autonomous nations, and to realize its ambition to dominate. As much of the world progresses and develops, imperialists become more aggressive and seek war to stop this progress and to maintain control.

As reality has shown, we cannot advance the revolution, and cannot defend the sovereignty of the country and the dignity of the nation without an uncompromising struggle against imperialism.

It is impossible to maintain autonomy, the right to survival, and the right to development with words alone. Peace can never be guaranteed through begging. The world’s progressive nations should be aware of the cunning and unscrupulous invasive nature of the imperialists and remain vigilant against them.

[signed] Lee Hyun Do