Park Geun Hye will back human rights probe of North Korea

You don’t need a Ph.D. to see that North Korea is gearing up to test Park Geun-Hye. The nice people at the quasi-official, Japan-based Chosun Sinbo reacted to Park’s inauguration speech, in which she called on North Korea to disarm, by saying they were “unable to hide our rage.”  Domestically, the North has launched another series of exhausting war exercises, with soldiers forced to live days on end in tunnels, or standing guard and catching frostbite outdoors.

All of this is a reaction to Park’s attempt to offer the North aid, as long as Kim Jong Un quits biting the hand that feeds his subjects.

“As part of trust-building efforts, we will first start humanitarian assistance,” the official said. “Besides the aid, we are also considering what else we can do.”

The government’s policy on North Korea revolves around a “two-track strategy” – supporting UN sanctions against Pyongyang’s provocations while pursuing trust-building policies at the same time, the official said.

“Rather than a strategy of ‘sanctions first and aid later,’ we’re going to participate in the international push for sanctions on the regime as chair of the UN Security Council, but we’ll also make moves based on mutual trust with North Korea,” the official added. [Joongang Ilbo]

Separately, the Joongang Ilbo piece adds the interesting detail that under Park’s predecessor, “the volume of inter-Korean trade … dropped from 289.2 billion won ($267 million) in 2007 to 14.1 billion won in 2012,” despite regular reports that trade at Kaesong has continued to rise.  Park suggests that this trend could be reversed, but also threatens that “[i]f North Korea stages further provocations, that would prompt stronger sanctions, which would pose a grave threat to the future of the Korean people.”

It all sounds sensible enough, even if it’s a little unrealistic.  But while we were all distracted by Dennis Rodman, Park made one decision that really deserves some applause.  Early in her administration, when most presidents would have shied away from controversial decisions, Park gave her government’s active support to a long-overdue U.N. human rights inquiry, after years of South Korean silence:

South Korea’s pledge Wednesday to give “active” support to the investigation comes just two days after the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye and is likely to infuriate the North, which views discussion of its human rights as a “grave violation.” Seoul struggled with the decision, which forced a choice between two key goals: restoring civil relations with Pyongyang and pressing its government to improve treatment of its 24 million people.

The South’s commitment, announced by Seoul’s deputy foreign minister for global affairs at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, is significant because the South holds influence over global policymaking regarding North Korea. With South Korea’s support, the investigation is all but assured of passage when the resolution is put up for a vote this month among member states of the Human Rights Council, rights advocates say. [….]

The new U.N. inquiry would establish a panel of experts who would interview witnesses, document abuses and help formally establish whether the North’s government is committing crimes against humanity. In January, Navi Pillay, the U.N. human rights chief, said in a statement that such an investigation was “long overdue,” particularly because there was no sign of improvement under third-generation leader Kim Jong Eun.  [Washington Post, Chico Harlan]

Separately, Yonhap notes that North Korea appears to be reducing the prisoner population in its gulag to between 80,000 and 120,000, but that this does not suggest an improvement in human rights conditions there.  Unfortunately, the paywall prevents me from seeing (1) Yonhap’s source for that estimate, (2) the basis for the source’s conclusion, and (3) the all-important follow-up question:  so what happened to the prisoners?  If anyone has a subscription, I’d be much obliged for the rest of the story.

Even before Park made this fateful decision, the North had already begun the process of making her into its next Goldstein.  Park will soon learn that the North doesn’t do give-and-take.  North Korea is a society of absolute authority and manichean struggle.  If you’re in charge, you demand tribute.  If you’re not, you pay it.