Cheonan Sinking Was a Pyrrhic Victory for Kim Jong-il

  • By Kang Chol-hwan from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

    August 09, 2010 13:55

    Kang Chol-hwan

    North Korea has yet to be condemned for sinking the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March, which killed 46 sailors, as China, Russia and some South Korean pro-Pyongyang organizations are skeptical that the North is behind the sinking. This is why a Japanese newspaper says North Korea "won" the diplomatic war that followed to the incident. As even 30 percent of South Koreans are said not to trust the multinational inquiry that pointed to the North as the culprit, the victim finds itself in the odd position of being made more uncomfortable than the perpetrator.

    The sinking itself was a great success for Kim Jong-il and his cohorts. Now they may well congratulate themselves on having achieved a great victory, since they also managed to divide South Koreans and generate fears for a war among them.

    O Kuk-ryol, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission who is said to have masterminded the Cheonan attack, has strengthened his position in the military thanks to the successful operation. And the North Korean military, which is beset with defeatism, may have recovered a degree of confidence. On the surface, therefore, North Korea appears to have won a complete victory. But in fact it was a Pyrrhic victory for Kim Jong-il.

    In my view, as a defector from the North, the lack of interest in national security that prevailed in the South under the two previous administrations was its worst inner enemy. At least South Koreans have woken up to national security, albeit at the cost of being frightened. It is also important that the nature of the North's "asymmetric" war capabilities has been exposed, so the sinking has compelled the South Korean armed forces to prepare for an emergency better.

    Because of the attack, the government has suspended all economic support for the North. It banned the import of North Korean marine products, which was handled by Room 39 of the Workers' Party, which is also in charge of Kim Jong-il's slush funds, putting North Korean trading firms in a tight spot. With the markets paralyzed due to the botched currency reform and foreign currency revenues down after the Cheonan sinking, all classes of North Koreans are expressing their grievances against the regime.

    The North Korean military is regarded as a public enemy by other influential groups in the North. They say the most urgent task is to revive the economy, but the military is instead making things worse for everyone.

    Overseas ethnic Koreans who have recently been to North Korea say that the attitude of senior North Korean officials has changed. Before the currency reform, they were arrogant and complained about foreign aid. But now they are very humble. Some senior officials reportedly entreated them to help, and the situation is so serious that not only ordinary people but high ranking officials have difficulty making ends meet. Military rations are stalled and troops live on corn and potatoes. All that leads to hairline cracks in Kim Jong-il's authority.

    In addition, the massive drills the South Korean and U.S. militaries conduct in the East and West Seas mean more pressure and pain to the North Korean military. Having trouble feeding the troops at the moment, they are in no position to think of mounting counter-exercises. In the long run, I believe the North's torpedoing and sinking the corvette Cheonan will come back to haunt it. Even if we lost a battle, we should remember that South Korea takes the lead on the road to Korea's reunification.

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