Tired of hearing about South Korean officials leaking our secrets and technology, or about North Korean agents gradually pulling a smothering blanket of juche over the South? Had enough Robert Kim already? Take heart. The bad guys have troubles of their own:
For years, Ambassador Li Bin was China’s go-to diplomat for the tense Korean Peninsula. After studies in North Korea, Li had served several tours in the Chinese embassies in Pyongyang and Seoul. Fluent in Korean and gregarious in nature, he also struck up an unusually personal relationship with Kim Jong Il, the secretive North Korean leader.
It turns out, according to knowledgeable Chinese officials, that Li was also a resource for the South Koreans, who exploited his insider knowledge about Kim and the closed-door North Korean government. During a tour as China’s ambassador to Seoul from 2001 to 2005, the officials said, Li regularly provided the South Koreans with information on Kim, the North and China-North Korea relations. [Washington Post]
I’m so used to seeing the South Koreans end up on the losing side of the Great Infiltration Game that I’m tempted to suspect that Li could have been a double agent, feeding the South Koreans the kind of prosaic estimates they’re so ready to hear. Lee’s leaks sound valuable, although it’s questionable whether we capitalized on them fully:
They included a sustained supply of information on Chinese and North Korean diplomatic exchanges, the officials said, as well as gleanings from Li’s personal contacts with Kim. These tidbits were current, they added, because Li had served as Kim’s escort and interpreter during recent visits to China and again had a chance to observe the North Korean leader up close. Li’s leaks were provided to U.S. as well as South Korean officials, the Chinese sources said.
In the end, it was Lee’s love of one particular South Korean custom — drinking himself into a verbose stupor — that did him in. At the moment, he’s warehoused at a think tank while his fate is determined, but Chinese authorities are not famous for being understanding about such things. You can read more about Li Bin here.
* Agreed Framework 2 Updates. Now that North Korea has “shut down” Yongbyon and allowed U.S. inspectors pretty much full access of the facility by all accounts, the State Department is saying that we’re ready to ship the first 50,000 tons of fuel oil to North Korea, out of a projected total of 950,000 tons when the agreement is fully fulfilled. Before you read on, plant yourself fully in a stable chair, because I think that’s exactly what we should do. Read the agreement and what we said we’d do during the “Initial Phase.” Yes, all of those deadlines are long gone. Yes, the agreement itself is a bad agreement. But it’s an agreement we signed, and North Korea has met those initial conditions, meaning we’re obliged to do what we (should never have) promised to do. The test ought to be the next phase, when North Korea has to fully disclose its nuclear weapons and programs. Far better that the failure point be North Korea’s failure to abide by its commitments than ours.
* Summit Updates. At first, I was dismayed that Roh Moo Hyun said he wouldn’t talk nukes with Kim Jong Il during the next summit. But on second thought, what value to you really think a private discussion between those two individuals would really add to the diplomatic process? My new view: the less they talk about, the better. Here’s a case in point. South Korean officials are admitting their readiness to transform a hotly disputed area of rich fishing waters in the Yellow Sea — still of undetermined size — from South Korean territory to a neutral “peace park.” You will recall that six South Korean sailors died defending that stretch of water not so long ago. It’s nothing less than a national betrayal for Roh to be openly discussing moving back the very borders of his country just two months before the end of his term. Although there’s no apparent reward for Roh’s country, Roh stands to receive a handful of votes on the extreme end of the political spectrum. With that kind of dubious bargaining, I certainly see no good and much bad coming from this summit.
* I recently added an RSS for North Korea’s official news service to my news reader tab just for giggles and the occasional grain of insight. In this missive, North Korea and the
Union of Rogue States Undocumented Centrifuge Owners’ Club, sorry, Non-Aligned Movement denounce human rights. Next up: Christmas, springtime, mini skirts, and puppies (and Jews, of course).
* Circuses Before Bread. A new movie is good news for fans of North Korean cinema, although I suspect North Koreans will be both better entertained and more effectively propagandized by staying home and watching “The Host” on their VCR’s. I have to think that if I were a North Korean, my apetite for frivolous things would be inexhaustable.
* Burma Watch. The generals have launched a brutal crackdown against those who took part in a recent wave of anti-government protests.