A fourth U.S. citizen is now being held by North Korea. Kim Hak-song, who, according to the Washington Post, worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was detained for “suspicion of hostile acts.”
This, most likely, is a pretext to simply hold another American hostage. Or it could be an effort to shutter the only private school of any kind in North Korea.
Two weeks ago, North Korea detained another U.S. national, Kim Sang-dok or Tony Kim, as he waited to board a flight at Pyongyang airport. He had been teaching a class in international finance and management at the same university, known as PUST.
PUSTS’s biggest potential crime may be praying and secretly holding Bible studies. The Bible is the number one banned book in the officially atheist North, where the Kims are venerated in an almost godlike fashion.
Two other U.S. citizens are currently being held. One man in his early 60s was charged with spying in 2016. The other is a University of Virginia student who was sentenced to 15 years at hard labor in March, 2016.
Otto Warmbier, 22, went to North Korea with a tour group and was accused to trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang. He has not been seen since his sentencing.
These detentions are relatively minor issues in the larger context of dealing with the North. Politically, it’s best to simply look at them as hostages. Former President Obama paid another rogue state with which America has no formal relations $400 million in foreign hard currency, secretly loaded aboard a plane.
Yes, that was Iran, now firmly embarked on a single-minded quest to build its own nuke, using North Korean technology. Iran is also likely buying missile tech from Kim, using some of that nice hard currency, and the $1,7 billion Obama gave away to the ayatollahs (add that to the $100 billion in unfrozen assets).
Officials told The Wall Street Journal that wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were secretly flown into Iran on the plane in January, the same day the U.S. exchanged seven Iranians for four American citizens who had been detained.
North Korea may be strapped for cash from China and its other trade partners due to sanctions for its pursuit of nukes and ICBMs, but its trade with Iran is probably doing very well. (And Iran’s trade with Boeing, but that’s a different story.)
Certainly Kim Jong-un would be happy to have his hand out waiting for some cash to return the hostages. He may have a powerful ally in the leading candidate in South Korea’s upcoming presidential elections. Moon Jae-in has a greater than double-digit lead over his closest rival. Moon is a left-of-center soft-liner on North Korea, from South Korea’s Democratic Party, and favors the “Sunshine Policy” of his late mentor former president Roh Moo-hyun.
Under “Sunshine 2.0,” as the South Korean media have dubbed his plans, Moon wants to reopen an industrial complex where North and South Koreans work together, just north of the de-militarized zone. He says he’s open to meeting the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. And he says he’d like to re-evaluate a deal the previous, conservative president Park Geun-hye signed with the U.S., to install a missile defense system in South Korea.
Moon is much more likely to break with the U.S., having written that South Korea should “learn how to say no” to America. I’m sure President Trump will give him ample opportunity, as the centerpiece of America’s missile defense shield, known as THAAD, just went operational last week.
If Trump favors pay-to-play with Moon, and Moon follows through with his threats to re-evaluate the deal to install THAAD, we might see no tripwire American presence on the Korean peninsula for the first time since the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. That’s a long-shot, given the close cooperation between ROK forces and the U.S. 8th Army, along with the USAF and other branches.
Moon, however, plays right into Kim’s hands, and away from Trump’s hard line.
It’s complicated. And nobody really knows what’s in Kim’s head–reunification with him as the dictator, or preserving the status quo forever? Could two Koreas survive with a historical cultural and economic tie, but completely different social and economic structures? I think not, not after nearly 70 years of Juche (self-reliance) and isolation in the North, and an explosion of capitalism (and Christianity) in the South.
Too many generations have passed to reconcile these without a political unification. It would be like still maintaining East and West Germany, but enabling economic and social cooperation between them. It can’t happen.
So either North Korea will develop ICBMs to threaten America (the only nation it really fears) and nuclear weapons to be delivered by those missiles, and America will withdraw from the South, paving the way for Kim to simply march into Seoul someday, or we will stand up to Kim and stop him.
I keep hearing the “Reservoir Dogs” (NSFW) scenario where three armed men are standing at an impasse, with one having his barrel to the head of his rival and his finger on the trigger. They ask how we could endanger 11 million people in Seoul from artillery raining from the North? Well, if Kim wants to commit suicide and take his country with him–and America leans a bit more forward on things like release of tactical nukes, and China believes us, we might avoid the trigger.
There’s no scenario where Kim gets his way and South Korea is more secure. The status quo cannot hold indefinitely since missiles and nukes are game changers. Why can’t Kim appeasers see this?
Or maybe we can make a deal with Kim like Obama did with Iran–a deal Trump called “disastrous” but now intends to maintain, using identical language to Obama’s in its report to the UN’s nuclear watchdog.
Trump recently said he’d be “honored” to meet Kim: “If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it.” There’s nothing wrong with a little tête-à-tête between heads of state; of course, North Korea would need to stop taking Americans hostage first, I would think.
Then again, if Trump filled a plane with $400 million in foreign currency and flew it to Pyongyang, I’m sure something could be worked out. Because that’s what Obama would do.