Thursday, November 25, 2010

North Korea's Shelling of Yeonpyeong-do -- What You Need to Know

I am going to write this in first person. This is no time for humor. I will provide some essential facts that everyone should know, then answer the questions that people submitted.

What happened exactly?
On November 23, 2010 from 2:34 p.m. to 4:42 p.m., North Korea fired approximately 170 artillery shells on the island of Yeonpyeong-do, off the western coast of South Korea. Approximately 80 shells hit the island. The artilleries were either installed on the North Korean coast, or were mobile ones. The shells appeared to be aimed toward the military base on the island, as the first round of shells fell on the barracks. Two soldiers and two civilians died. Six soliders were seriously wounded. Ten soldiers and three civilians suffered minor injuries. Two civilians are missing. Around 20 civilian buildings were destroyed.

South Korean artillery returned fire, launching approximately 80 shells toward the base from which the initial attack came. There is no information regarding North Korea's damage yet, but the early speculation is that South Korean response was inadequate both in terms of magnitude and type. South Korean rules of engagement calls for a return fire double the size of the attack, but South Korean artillery ended up firing less than half the size. Also, North Korean artilleries are hidden inside caves along the coast, shielded from South Korean artillery.

South Korea also deployed eight fighter jets, but they did not engage -- the figher jets' mission was to bomb the missile bases should North Korea progress beyond the artillery attacks. But for the second time since Cheonan, South Korean military is being blamed for its incompetent management of an actual, war-like conditions.

Where is Yeonpyeong-do, and why is it important?
Yeonpyeong-do is an island which is pretty far west into the Yellow Sea. Significantly, the island is less than 10 miles away from North Korean coast. It has a military base and a civilian population of approximately 1,700. The island mostly lives off of crab fishing from the nearby seas.

North Korea's choice of Yeonpyeong-do to shell has much to do with the Northern Limits Line (NLL). At the end of Korean War in 1953, the maritime border between North and South Korea was not set completely. The line was drawn by Gen. Mark Clark, the commander of the UN troops aiding South Korea, and South Korea has treated NLL as the de facto maritime border.

North Korea has consistently asserted that NLL is not the true border. It had asserted a very different maritime border, and threatened military action without warning should South Korean ships cross its line. This is a significant advantage for North Korea -- because the NLL is not a settled line, it can engage in military actions without violating the Armistice Treaty. It may sound funny to discuss the law in this kind of circumstance, but if North Korea had shelled a part of mainland South Korea that was equally desolate -- for example, like Goseong, Gangwon-do -- the significance of its actions would have been much greater. (Not that the actions are not hugely significant already.)


The blue line is the NLL. Red dotted line is the line asserted by North Korea.
Under North Korea's assertion, there would be a narrow sea-channel that would
allow South Korean boats to access the islands. 
Seoul is the red dot on the far right. Yeonpyeong-do is the island in the middle,
very close to the NLL. (Source)


How was North and South Korea getting along up to this point? What precipitated this attack?
They were getting along badly, but not as bad as you think. The sinking of ROKS Cheonan in March, which stayed front and center in Korean public's minds until late May, definitely strained the relationship. But in fact, the relationship was softening up a little by August. North Korea suffered massive starvation and epidemic because of a flood, and South Korea sent some amount of humanitarian aid in response. Earlier this month, there was a meeting between the families separated between North and South Korea, and by all indications those meetings would happen regularly.

Some media have been reporting that the shelling came in response to South Korea's military drill, but it is more accurate to say that North Korea used South Korea's military drill as an excuse. South Korea has been doing the same exact military drill for decades, and for just as long North Korea responded shrilly, threatening military action for South Korea's "provocation." North Korea issued the exact same threat this time around, but South Korean military ignored it. South Korea had an artillery drill in the morning of the day of the attack, but that drill fired shots toward Southwest, away from North Korea.

Why did North Korea attack?
No one can know for sure, but there are some guesses. The succession of Kim Jong-Un, 27-year-old son of Kim Jong-Il, has not been going as smoothly as was hoped. I was in the middle of translating a post from Mr. Joo Seong-Ha, who had heard from his North Korean informants that the younger Kim is hated by regular North Koreans. Few excuses are better than the threat of war to crack down the opposition. There is also a theory that this attack was intended to bring United States to the bargaining table. I will discuss more about that later in the post.

How serious is this attack?
Any time there is an artillery shelling, it is a serious matter. But even more than that, this attack is a very, very serious matter -- even more serious than the attack on ROKS Cheonan in March of this year. First of all, this attack was made on South Korean land -- the first such attack since the war. The attack was indiscriminate as to military and civilian targets. (But there is some question as to whether the shells on the civilian target were the result of a deliberate or inaccurate aim.) Both soldiers and civilians died. And most importantly, North Korea has much less deniability than the Cheonan attack. Not to say that North Korea had much deniability in the sunken ship, but at least it could deny the responsibility for attack. Only idiots would buy that denial, but at least someone would buy it. This time, not even idiots can buy North Korea's denial of responsibility. (But they surely will try, I think.) I will elaborate more on this point below as well.

What will be the response of relevant parties?
This part will take time to develop, but right now it seems that South Korea and the U.S. are contemplating the response, Japan is upset but does not have many cards to play with, and China issued a statement that said North Korea has long tolerated South Korea's provocations. (Which is Grade-A bullshit.)

Questions from readers after the jump.  For this topic, I will continue to take questions in the comment board and answer them.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


I hear that a large percentage of the mainland folk are far more apathetic about the situation and have shrugged it off. Why is this?

- Steve H.

I teach at a university in Seoul. I have a handful of male students who have already completed their military service, and are now in the reserves. The opinion in this admittedly small sample seems to be split between complete indifference and chomping at the bit to go fight. Is that split in opinion pretty widespread?

- Sarah

South Koreans' apathy for North Korean provocations have become quite famous around the world, because it is so difficult to imagine what it is like to constantly live in a state where nuclear annihilation is a real possibility. But once you live in South Korea, there is not much you can do other than ignore the danger.

Let me put it in personal terms -- my entire life in Korea was spent in Seoul, 30 miles away from DMZ. In fact, my school field trip included a trip to DMZ. In my relatively short lifetime, South Korea's president has been attacked with a bomb in Myanmar, which killed half the cabinet; South Korean airline was bombed by North Korean terrorists, killing hundreds; North Korean spy killed a former high-ranking North Korean defector in front of his house; North Korean submarine randomly appeared on the South Korean coast and its crew killed several soldiers before committing mass suicide; civilian South Korean tourist to North Korea was randomly shot in the back by a North Korean soldier; North Korean warships skirmished several times with South Korean gunboats, killing sailors; North Korean submarine sinks a South Korean warship. And now the shelling. Moreover, draft-age males all know exactly where to be and what to do in case of a war. If you think constantly about these things, the fear will paralyze you.

(Arguably -- emphasis on ARGUABLY -- South Koreans have a healthier mentality than Americans, who are so afraid of terrorists that they are willing to be either shown naked to or groped by a stranger before boarding on an airplane. Despite 60 years of being terrorized by North Korea, metal detectors are few and far between in South Korea.)

But this does not mean South Koreans are not concerned, or not angry. Make no mistake about it -- the outward lack of reaction is utterly incongruent with the deep anger and frustration felt by South Koreans. And younger people -- particularly young men who just completed their military duties, which is mostly a preparation of how to fight North Korea -- are more prone to expressing that frustration. They are as sick as anybody about having to take this shit for decades, and they want revenge. But I would say that the majority of South Koreans are more about gritting teeth and dealing with it.

Is now the time to get out of Korea?

- Ricecake

If you are the type that gets paralyzed by fear, maybe. If I had to handicap it, in a "normal" state there is maybe 1 percent chance that there could be a new Korean War. After this, I would say something like 2.5 percent. Trust me on this -- no one is more afraid of war than South Koreans themselves. They have experienced it firsthand, and they know it is not a picnic.

I would, however, advise that it would not be a bad idea to review the evacuation plan that your country has. Chris in South Korea has a great collection of that information. War is not a joke -- being ready for the least probable is still a smart idea when it comes to war.

Administration (on both sides) want to avoid any kind of extended military conflict, and they'll do a more than sufficient job of making sure things remain contained in these Cold War-esque skirmishes. My question to The Korean is: would you agree with this assessment?

- Katherine

Does Korea have a strong military and are they adequately prepared to defend themselves against the tyrant in N. Korea, especially now that N. Korea is trying to go nuclear? What part does the U.S. military play in S. Korea's defense? Do you think China will step in to help N. K. like they did during the Korean War?

- Sonora


What do you think is going to happen in Korea what with the brouhaha that has taken place today?

-Concerned Overseas Korean

I am answering all three at the same time because they are interrelated. In the short term, I agree with Katherine. Neither North nor South wants an all-out war, and that has much to do with the respective strengths of North and South.

At this point, there is no question that in case of an all-out war, South Korea (with America's support, but nothing like the scale of forces committed in Afghanistan) will emerge victorious in the end. South Korea has superior weaponry, particularly in the air force. North Korean weaponry is a hand-me-down Russian guns, tanks and jets from the 1950s and 60s, and there is a real doubt as to whether North Korea even has enough food to have their soldiers fight, much less fuels to run its war machines. With help from American air support, South Korea should be able to destroy Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un with air strike pretty quickly. North Koreans have no delusions about their broken country. Once defeat is evident, North Korean people are unlikely to resist.

Against this backdrop, North Korea has exactly three things to count on -- (1) artillery and missiles pointed at Seoul; (2) threat of nuclear attack; (3) China. The first point is crucial and cannot be overstated -- North Korea needs nothing else other than conventional artillery and short-range missiles to vaporize a significant portion of Seoul, South Korea's capital and a city of 10 million people, within one hour or so. And there is no way to intercept conventional artillery shells. The best South Korea can do is to bomb the artillery bases after the first round of shells are fired -- and by then, Seoul is already a pile of rubble. (Ironically, this makes the threat of nuclear attack nearly meaningless when it comes to South Korea -- no need for a nuke when artilleries will do. North Korea's nuclear threat is really more for the U.S. and Japan.)

China is another problem. Although it is becoming increasingly obvious that North Korea is a liability to China rather than a help, China is continuing with its position and protecting North Korea. Unified Korea with South Korea taking the lead means that there will be a U.S.-friendly country right at the doorstep of China -- as if Russia had conquered Florida at the height of Cold War. China does not want that. If a second Korean War happens, there is a solid chance that China will intervene like it did 60 years ago. This is another significant deterrence for South Korea to take proactive actions.

This dilemma was reflected in South Korean president's response -- when he received the news of the shelling, his first order was: "Avoid expansion of the conflict," followed by another order 30 minutes later: "Respond sternly but take care not to aggravate the situation." Only after a barrage of criticisms about the timidity of the response did President Lee Myoung-Bak issued orders along the lines of "Retaliate several times over" and "Enormous punishment is necessary so that no more provocation is possible."

President Lee pretty much had to make that kind of statement, even though by then the damage has been long done. The eternal problem is -- there is NOTHING South Korea can do to stop this type of provocation from North Korea. Cutting off aid means nothing to North Korea -- the regime survived when millions starved to death during the 1990s. Giving aids also means nothing -- North Korea developed nuclear weapon and attacked South Korean navy even when South Korean administrations were relatively friendlier to the North. Not even annihilating a few artillery bases means anything to Kim Jong-Il/Kim Jong-Un regime, and doing so would likely trigger all-out war at any rate.

What will happen? As of now, my bet is -- business as usual. Tension will run high, and somebody -- North or South, it does not matter -- will reach out for a dialogue, offering a temporary solution. And the other side -- again North or South, it does not matter -- will accept that solution. For neither party wants to hurtle down toward the end game.

What do YOU think is the proper South Korean response?

-The Filipino

Somehow, this situation reminds me of poker. Two people are in a poker tournament with $1,000 each in chips. Pre-flop raise of $100 and a call gives them a heads up. Flop comes, the bet is $150. Call. The pot is now $500. Turn card comes, the bet is $300. Do you call?

If you call, you know where this is going. You only have $450 left over, and the pot is $1100. If you call, you have to be ready to commit your remaining money as well. But if you fold, you just lost a quarter of your chips without putting up a fight.

This North Korean attack is the $300 bet. It is forcing South Korea to act one way or the other. If South Korea folds and appeases North Korea, there will be another round of aggressive betting coming this way, and South Korea will have even less money to play with. If South Korea stands firm and fights, it inevitably comes to a showdown -- where it can win little more than a Pyrric victory.

I know what I would do at that table. But I never played poker with thousands of human lives as chips.

Facile comparisons aside, here are some things in my mind.

- South Korea needs to seriously think about the end game. There really are only two end games: (1) Kim Jong-Un succeeds the throne successfully, somehow gets the security of his regime guaranteed by U.S. and South Korea. Kim remains tyrant for his life, and passes down the throne to another generation and possibly thereafter; (2) Reunification happens, peacefully or otherwise.

- North Korea must be considering the end game also, particularly because the heir apparent is taking the throne. Kim Jong-Un is yet to prove that he is as astute a politician as his father. Therefore, long-term stability must be provided to ensure a smooth succession. Thus option (1) is the one to pursue. Ultimately, North Korea wants to have a bilateral discussion with the United States such that U.S. will guarantee its security. This provocation, along with the recent revelation of uranium enrichment facility, fits this aim. The greater threat North Korea appears to be, the more likely that U.S. will do something about that threat -- provided that U.S. will bomb it back to stone age, which is unlikely to happen.

- For South Korea, number (2) is the only acceptable option. There is little reason to expect that North Korea under Kim Jong-Un will be any better than North Korea under Kim Jong-Il. If North Korea attempts China-style reform, it will likely spell doom for the Kim family regime. North Korean people are long done buying the Kim family propaganda. If they receive some tiny measure of freedom and economic wealth, there is a strong chance that they will not tolerate their oppressive regime. There is little reason to think that Kim Jong-Un will risk that. Therefore, North Korean regime will remain just as oppressive and just as dangerous.

- I used to be the biggest supporter of Sunshine Policy, but not since the Cheonan sinking, and definitely not after this. There is no way South Koreans will accept Sunshine Policy any more at any rate. But the worrisome part is that South Korean government is also unprepared for the consequences of its hard-line stance. Hard-line stance is fine, but the consequences of a hard-line stance are plain; shit like this will happen. And if hard-line stance continues, more shit like this will happen. In fact, the provocation will become stronger and more dangerous.

This should give everyone a pause. If we should continue maintaining hard-line against North Korea, what next? North Korea is no stranger to terrorist attacks. It has blown up planes, bombed South Korean president and sent a special forces squad to Seoul. It can do again all of the above, and then some. How much will South Korea tolerate? And when South Korea somehow manages to continue stonewalling, the next step for North Korea would be to get on America's nerves as well. Threat of nuclear proliferation will do just the trick.

- As to what I think, let me start with a big caveat: What I think does not mean shit. I am just a guy who reads a lot of news. But since I am asked, here is what I think.

I think South Korea needs to have a very serious national dialogue on what it wants to do. South Koreans will need to make a firm decision on the type of end game it wants, and will have to understand what costs will be incurred by moving toward that end game.

Right now, South Koreans want a hard-line stance (understandably,) but I am not sure if they yet considered fully the consequences of that stance. Hard-line stance means more kidnapping, more terrorist attacks and more shelling. It might mean all-out war. It might mean half-destroyed Seoul. If this is not an acceptable consequence, South Korea needs to push hard for the other end game -- accept North Korea for what it is, attempt to stabilize it and give up on reunification. It will have to accept the fact that it will continue to give aids, and it will still occasionally suffer the indignity of being pushed around, while holding out hope against hope that North Korea will undergo China-style reform despite odds against it. In other words, all South Koreans need to assess the situation with eyes wide open, pick one route, and stick with it.

To close, please god, don't let this woman come anywhere near a position to control the military: Sarah Palin wants to "stand with our North Korean allies." Fucking moron. You bring shame to America.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

42 comments:

  1. I don't think Lee Myung-bak and I would agree on much politics-wise but I don't blame him at all for the way he's handled the North Korean provocations of late, although perhaps he should have been a little more pro-active after the sinking of the Cheonan.

    Right now he has a decision to make as tough as any president could hope to face. To me, giving aid to the North Koreans in exchange for a reduction in their aggressive behaviour would be akin to paying off Osama Bin Laden to stop trying to bomb things. The unprovoked, unpredictable attacks are absolutely the acts of terrorists.

    A military response, on the other hand, would probably have little effect other than fuelling the NK propaganda machine. Given that their main goal is self-preservation, and that they have virtually no chance of holding their own in a long-term conflict, I would guess that the very last thing NK would want is another war; but if the South were to hit military targets, things could very quickly and even unintentionally blow right out of control. I imagine that once the order is given to start dropping shells and missiles on Seoul, the point of no return will have been reached.

    So neither of these options are particularly good, but then again neither is doing nothing at all, as NK will clearly keep committing violent, terrorist acts until they get what they want.

    I've seen two suggestions for retaliation which I quite like. One is to launch a full-scale propaganda war. Instead of letting NGOs send up their balloons full of leaflets, start firing them over in enormous quantities. Send over mobile phones so ordinary North Korean citizens suddenly have access to information that the government is trying to repress. Even go through with that ridiculous idea of blasting Girls' Generation through the speakers near the DMZ.

    Another option would be to conduct a very limited military strike, aimed squarely at one of the palaces or resorts that Kim and co. frequent. Just send one single missile or carefully-aimed artillery shell to knock down a palace tower or two. Someone even suggested that simply showing footage of a stealth bomber loading up a heavy-duty bunker-buster in a Korean air base would be enough to send the message.

    The point is to let them know that we are gunning for the top. Kim Jong-il would surely have been frightened by the footage of Saddam Hussein and his sons meeting a grisly end. It might give him pause the next time he wants to play chicken with human lives.

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  2. Global Security seems to dispute the "North Korea could level Seoul with artillery" theory that I hear stated as fact all the time.

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/rok/seoul-imagery-artillery.htm

    Perhaps a dumb question but, why don't we just launch a Bush-style preemptive attack on all of North Korea's known weapons caches? These aren't imaginary WMDs, after all.

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  3. @Erik

    Many of my American friends ask me the same question, and the answer is simple: China.

    South Korea cannot go on a war without US's support. US cannot support the war unless the world approves of it. China is the world, and China disapproves, thus US cannot support the war.

    Remember what happened during Cheonan incident when the issue was pushed up to the UN? That was an attempt from US to get the world's approval of kicking North Korea's ass. Unfortunately, China shot it down and nothing further was accomplished.

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  4. In fact any military decision in Korea needs permition from US. So such thing as stragetic bombing is USA's decision but not ours.

    So there is only thing we can do as Koreans: Let's see what happens next time. Just I wish we win every conflict next time.

    Writing this down I feel very frustrated. The best thing for me is that let's just ignore everything.

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  5. To continue with the game metaphors, these recent days are very much like a game of chess, one in which many of the moves available lead to pieces being lost in an attack. Of all the things I've heard suggested, I quite like the idea of launching a full-scale propaganda war from South Korea's point of view. It's proactive, strong, and subversive. It's not strong enough, however (in my mind), to warrant NoKo's full assault.

    Right now, North Korea has South Korea in a ridiculous corner - like a Red Queen vs. a Blue King. Check. Move. Check. Move. Check. Move. It could go on forever, and North Korea wants that to happen. Not only do they want it, but in the current set-up, they HAVE that advantage.

    A serious propaganda war, however, turns the tables. Turning the North Koreans against their own leadership is the one thing that they don't want, I would think. Eventually, such a plan would make North Korea so unstable that Kim Jong Il or Un (whoever was in charge at the time) would be forced to make an uncalculated error.

    That error will probably cost lives. That risk must be taken, but only if there's a decisive check-mate in waiting. After a year or two of effective & sustained propagandizing, the NoKo populace tide would be so turned against the regime (unlike, say, in Afghanistan and Iraq), that a calculated, massive air assault should eliminate most of NoKo's threat. Will missiles be fired at Seoul? Yes, some, but with a year or two of surveillance and planning, that damage should be minimized.

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  6. What about the third endgame: with black market and illegal trade with China already thriving, the new great leader will allow the slow liberalization of the economy, with China as its main economic and political partner. China will continue to have its buffer zone and sattelite state on the peninsula, a de facto Korean Autonomous Region even. There will be two Koreas, a US-ally and a China ally. Reunification will never happen, or if it will, it will be through Chinese and North Korean conquest of South Korea, once China's military will be stronger than America's, at least in its own neighbourhood.

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  7. Bollocks! The Korean is starting to sound like a propaganda department.

    South Korea fired FIRST, South Korea are the agressors here.

    From the associated press.

    The skirmish began when Pyongyang [i.e. North Korea] warned the South to halt military drills in the area, according to South Korean officials. When Seoul [i.e. South Korea] refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters, albeit away from the North Korean shore, the North retaliated by bombarding the small island of Yeonpyeong, which houses South Korean military installations....


    Note how all western propaganda channels state NK fired first. While all other media say Russia Today says SK fired first.

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  8. These "disputed waters" were agreed on during the truce negotiations after the (pseudo-)peace negotiations at the end of the Korean War. Since then North Korea seems to have changed its mind.

    South Korea fired southwards well within the NLL border into the EMPTY SEA and North Korea responded by firing at and killing CITIZENS.

    The last time North Korea fired artillery into SK waters, SK shot the rockets down and did nothing more, nothing less.

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  9. "laopan said...

    What about the third endgame: with black market and illegal trade with China already thriving, the new great leader will allow the slow liberalization of the economy, with China as its main economic and political partner. China will continue to have its buffer zone and sattelite state on the peninsula, a de facto Korean Autonomous Region even. There will be two Koreas, a US-ally and a China ally. Reunification will never happen, or if it will, it will be through Chinese and North Korean conquest of South Korea, once China's military will be stronger than America's, at least in its own neighbourhood."

    1) NK won't reform that way, at least not without a regime change.

    I hadn't thought about it before, but The Korean's point that North Korea opening up would mean the end of Kim makes sense. Of course, if the Chinese managed to impose a new regime, then the new leader presumably wouldn't have the same problem...

    (Even China doesn't have enough influence in North Korea right now to pull this off peacefully, and even if the rest of the world agreed to let China do it, China would need roughly 1 million PLA troops to be able to pull of a forcible regime change and stabilze North Korea.)

    2) If this did happen, I would guess that many, if not most, South Koreans would be willing to accept it. Especially if it meant an end to the attacks and nuclear blackmail. Reunifcation would be delayed, perhaps for another 60 years or longer, but if that's the price of peace...

    3) Reunification under a pro-China "blood ties" one-Korea might be possible in the long term, if NK did reform and enough decades have past that the economy has improved to the point where the sides are roughly equal. (Over this time scale, reunification under a pro-US democratic one-Korea is probably just as likely, if not more so.)

    Military conquest is not an option, as that path leads to retaliation under America's nuclear umbrella. Also, at this point both China and North Korea would have a lot more to lose in terms of their economies being damaged as a result of the war (unlike now where NK's economy is at or near rock bottom).

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  10. Dear Chinese Guy,

    careful when throwing rocks in a glasshouse. :) Sorry, couldn't resist that one. But seriously - you accuse The Korean and 'Western' news of making propaganda statements?

    This made me think of a very fitting joke that The Korean posted in a topic quite a while back. It was about a discussion between an American and a North Korean reporter.
    "America is a free country. If the president is not doing a good job, you can go out to Times Square and say out loud, 'Down with Barack Obama!'"

    "North Korea is a free country as well. We North Koreans can also go to the Kim Il-Sung Square and say out loud, 'Down with Barack Obama!'"

    Honestly, in which country would you face more serious consequences when not toeing the party line and publishing critical press? And I sincerely doubt that Chinese press is more liberal than 'Western' press.
    And are you seriously cite Russia as a glowing example for free press?

    For the record, when I first read about this incident in my local propaganda pamphlet, it was carefully stressed that at this point no one knew exactly who shot first.

    Admittedly, quite some suspicion was cast on North Korea. Which seems to be an accepted fact now. But there's a good reason for that.
    I am aware that news can be slanted towards political agendas - and it is likely not easy to see clearly if you grew up with certain opinions. So I may have been completely misinformed and duped ... but isn't North Korea one of the prime examples for a completely messed up state? You can say what you will about 'Western' politicians. But most do not live in a palace ... let alone several. While their population starves. In a system that is supposed to be the very model of equality. Nor are they worshipped like gods or considered infallible.

    Now which population might be more routinely exposed to propaganda? Seriously, what IS the Chinese position on this? I am truly a bit baffled. Surely North Korea is not seen as a perfect country?

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  11. TK. Just to shed more light on the NK invasion scenario, here is a very detailed and well-researched analysis using satellite imagery analysis (i.e. google earth). It is equally morbid and fascinating.
    http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?162240-Bluffer-s-Guide-North-Korea-strikes!-(2009)

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  12. Glass houses?

    TCG regularly slags off both the UK government AND the Chinese government too. I am pretty openly critical of the crap which comes out of the BBC which is state propaganda channel. As well as the CCTV which is also a state propaganda channel.

    The US is a republic btw, and democracy actually makes it WORSE. Since the people vote FOR the actions it's government takes! We have an all or nothing election system i.e. you cannot cherry pick policies you take all or nothing.
    Thus in a (sham) democracy when a government does something. It does it with the explicit consent of the people. In non voting countries the government does whatever it wants regardless of what the people want.

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  13. This is quite funny, there is no such thing as a free state. China nope? NK nope, UK nope! All states on the planet are mere fascimilies of NK. The difference is simply one of efficiency. Western free systems are highly efficient. Less stable societies are much less efficient thus the gun pointing has to be overt.

    The evidence is in your wallets.

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  14. Okay, I am going to say something mean for once: a couple of very powerful bombs (not nuclear, there are other weapons of destruction) - and there is no North Korea. I think this ought to teach them a lesson. As for Chinese, it would be a good warning for them too. If nobody buys their sh..., they will starve to death.

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  15. This story was amusing with a Venezuelan beauty pageant getting confused between Korean and China. Everything in Asia is Chinese.

    http://af.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idAFTRE6AN67020101124

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  16. @Chinese guy: I don't understand your logic. As someone else commented, South Korea fires into the ocean, and North Korea responds by targeting (and killing) citizens? Do you think they're justified in all of this? It's obvious the Norks were looking for any excuse to show aggression.

    Also, I still don't understand how democracy supposedly makes things worse. You said it yourself: the people choose. How is that worse than the government totally disregarding public opinion and/or acting against the interest of its citizens?

    Thirdly, comparing a country such as the UK (or even China) with NK is unwarranted because of the vast difference in citizens' basic freedoms. It makes me wonder how much you know about NK at all.

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  17. Can you read Korean?

    Check out what North has written about this happening-> http://www.uriminzokkiri.com/2010/index.php

    (If you are currently in Korea, you wouldn't have access to it.)

    In the website, North Korea argues that South Korea deliberately provoked North. Yet, South Korea and America both determine North as the violator.

    How could two different media circles present something TOTALLY opposite as truth?

    It aches my heart to see the picture of reunification blurred by another unfortunate incident like this.

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  18. @FarFromKorea:

    "NK won't reform that way, at least not without a regime change."

    I don't see why not. They only need to stay put and let the market evolve, as it is already happening. The failure of the currency reform should be a good enough lesson to learn from. If the Kim kid comes to power, he only needs to officially sanction the practice, and it will give him better legitimation than unbelieveble stories about his heroic feats. I'm thinking of a Chinese or Vietnamese style economy here: socialist in name, but capitalist in practice. This is a good way (maybe the only way) for the regime to stay in power. The military will be happy, as better economy means more money which means more toys for them. And if there is no need for regime change, there is no need for PLA troops either.

    "Military conquest is not an option, as that path leads to retaliation under America's nuclear umbrella."

    We are talking conventional warfare here. Nuclear umbrella only comes to play if the Chinese or North Koreans employ the bomb first. I doubt the US would strike first. Besides, who knows what will become of the US nuclear umbrella and Far-Eastern alliance system in 60 years. What is likely though is that in six decades China will be stronger in conventional warfare, especially in its own backyard. Which means reunification under the northern flag is more likely.

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  19. My major problem is how whatever WE say is always regarded with 100% implacable and unassailable truth. While anything the 'enemy' says is automatically 100% a lie and can never ever ever ever^999 to true.

    I seem to remember in 2005, where Saddam said we ain't got no WMDs. A huge war later costing trillions and many lives. The western governments were wrong. There were no WMDs.

    But thats ok fine and dandy isn't it? Whatever the western powers and their allies say is never wrong is it?

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  20. @Stewart

    "Thirdly, comparing a country such as the UK (or even China) with NK is unwarranted because of the vast difference in citizens' basic freedoms."


    Firstly UK citizens don't actually have ANY rights at all. What are commonly considered rights can be revoked at anytime. The UK gov+ police said your rights can be taken away for a short while. Which actually means what many people consider to be rights are not actually rights at all. Instead they are merely priviledges. Only priviledges can be revoked. Rights can never be taken away. Ergo in reality most of us in free societies have no rights we only think we do.

    NK and the USA are IDENTICAL, SK and NK are also identical. I said the difference is one of efficiency nothing more. The efficiencies are merely cosmetic. As I said again, no matter what country you are in, have a look in your wallet. If the answer isn't obvious now, it is fiat currency. Guess what fiat currency is backed by? Guess what backs the thing which backs fiat currency? An election here and there does not make the backing of fiat vanish. Obama/Bush pre and post election the backing of fiat currency is there before and after the election.

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  21. The thing is, Saddam Hussein did not deny having nuclear weapons. He deliberately pretended to have WMD. He even kicked out nuclear inspectors.

    On top of that, Saddam Hussein did have nuclear weapons programme in the past (and proven) and was already in possession of biological and chemical weapons.

    On topic, it is somewhat unreasonable to suddenly claim your neighbour's garden and then call the police for tresspassing.

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  22. Thanks for the commentary, but for the comment at the end about Palin, dirty pool. She corrected herself, even the story stated that, and these politicians as well as anyone who speaks as much as they do, will end up making gaffes. Google up any one one of her peers liberal or conservative, you can find a nice list. I mean at least bring something a little more substantive, and not dirty up your own good work.

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  23. @Chinese guy:
    "NK and the USA are IDENTICAL, SK and NK are also identical. I said the difference is one of efficiency nothing more."

    No, they are not identical. And the only support you seem to have in regard to your assertion that NK = UK is that the UK government has apparently stated that the people's rights "can" be taken away, which is purely hypothetical and doesn't distract from the fact that NK doesn't hesitate to stomp all over the "rights/privileges" of its citizens while maintaining otherwise.

    I'm not here to say that either the UK, US, or SK are perfect systems, but to counter that none are comparable to the state of basic freedoms in NK. I don't want to talk theory here either. NK citizens are deprived of freedom of speech, movement, religion, etc. which are some of the most basic freedoms democratic nations grant.

    There is such an obvious distinction between the freedoms of these two countries that it seems nonsensical to compare them.

    With that out of the way, I still have no idea how the South are supposedly the aggressors (and the Norks are justified?).

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  24. @Chinese guy:
    "NK and the USA are IDENTICAL, SK and NK are also identical. I said the difference is one of efficiency nothing more."

    You can't be serious about this. Efficiency is far from the only difference. What about the Bill of Rights? Have I been duped into believing that I have had the freedom to say and believe what I want and when i want? Was I dreaming when I protested government actions, solicited signatures in opposition to government policy and freely walked around declaring my disdain for George Bush. No. You can criticize what we have done, but a declaration that Americans and North Koreans have similar rights holds no weight.

    As far as who fired first goes, you have chosen to focus on a minute detail that supports your claim instead of the whole picture. Doesn't South Korea need to fire at the north in order for it to be considered a legitimate threat? Yes. Let's look at this on a person-to-person scale:

    Would my shadowboxing next to you be considered an attack and thus justify you assaulting me in "retaliation"? No. Would you warning me before hand change that? No. A free and rational justice system would never accept a defense of "he did something I don't like even though I warned him not to.

    Shooting first and attacking first are two very different things. The proof that North Korea attacked first and threatens to do it again lies in their statements:

    Earlier North Korea's KCNA news agency said Pyongyang will launch more attacks if South Korea continues with "reckless provocations".

    "[North Korea] will wage second and even third rounds of attacks without any hesitation, if warmongers in South Korea make reckless military provocations again," the agency said, quoting from a military statement.

    - Al Jazeera (http://tinyurl.com/3xvkdq6)

    As far as I know, the North has never claimed that the South attacked first. They continuously say "provoked". You cannot retaliate towards a "provocation", only attack.

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  25. i agree it will be business as usual. tension is high but within a few months the public will have moved on to another story. this will just become another subtext to future skirmishes.

    humans are generally drawn towards conflicts. we have been glorifying the world wars with movies, video games, etc and will continue to do so. south korea has done similarly with the strife between north and south (not to the extent as world wars) but there are plenty of "ideas" stemming from this conflict.

    i believe a lot of this stems from a philosophical question of whether humans are inherently evil or good. it is one of those questions that can be argued either way. i myself think it is a question with no answer, and since it has no answer it is one of the reasons we are drawn towards such conflict.


    food for thought...
    who really wants reunification to happen? what do the North and South have to gain from it?

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  26. @John Kim: Well, in the big picture, reunification under ROK governance would benefit the Korean economy immensely provided we are thoroughly prepared for the event of reunification. Which is what the reunification tax is for, isn't it (if it passes)? Not to mention liberating some 26 million North Koreans.

    As for who actually wants reunification... it's hard to say.

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  27. @TheProgressiveAmerican

    As I said again both countries are the same. This is evidenced clearly by the use of fiat. Demand for fiat is created by taxes. Taxes are backed by laws. Laws are backed by guns. As an American what happens if you don't pay your taxes? You get kidnapped and imprisoned. This is universal in all fiat currencies, the one in NK and the US$ as well as the KRW, RMB etc.

    Thus most societies are non-consential societies. Everybody is forced to do stuff under threat of bad things happening.

    Q.E.D gun pointing and forcing of people to do stuff happens in ALL countries.

    The only difference is efficiency. The UK is uber efficient, force/violence is seldom used. People pay and want to pay because it is normalised.

    In less efficient societies, the violence has to be more explicit and demonstrated regularly to force compliance. Hence the inefficiencies. If you have to shoot your own people daily you ruin your chattel of labour.

    Therefore while in NK they have unveiled guns pointed at people's heads. The Chattels (people) of 'freesocieties' have veiled guns pointed at their heads. Thus they are the same, i.e. you have a gun pointed at your head.

    What do we call gun pointing societies?

    Despotism! Elections change little, as the gun pointing goes on pre and post election.

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  28. Here is my BIG GIANT WHITE MALE AMERICAN opinion. America owes China so much money that if our relationship is ever strained China's economy would die and so would a billion people from lack of exports. N. Korea is a joke and will be done in the next 30 years an then they will be forced to deal with the realization that there country is full of lemmings and sheeps like the rest of us except they follow dictators while the south follows pop culture and anything made by blizzard. America really doesn't give a rats ass about Korea just the soldiers there that are holding down on of the best tactical military installations in the world. Sucks but really what South Korea needs to do is just send some bombs over to NK and call there bluff. Either way a few strategic missles would kill there already half assed infrastructure. Screw what the chinese dude is saying because he is just jealous his country is bootleg kings and make half ass products. Seriously Chinese guy you have no place to speak because your whole nation just like every other one revolves around what we the sheeps of America buy from you guys. All in all NK is seriously screwed in the long run and South Korea has to live with it because soon or a later you will have tons of immigrants crossing the border in masses because China don't want them.

    ReplyDelete
  29. It's a sad truth, but the DPRK can't simply roll up and die. The world can't afford it.

    The RoK can't afford to absorb it; look at the struggles Germany had after reunification, but add a factor of 10.

    China probably doesn't want it as a Hong Kong/Macau style satelite state; it's a financial liability and another cultural-melting-pot problem.

    If there's a coup, wouldn't we end in a never-ending carousel of six-month dictators, as there's no widely accepted, widely backed alternative leader to promote?

    There is no way out. In a way, running the DPRK into the dirt is the smartest thing the Kim family ever did.

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  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  31. Hey Chinese Guy.

    Don't think so hard.

    You'll give yourself an aneuriysm.

    ReplyDelete
  32. laopan said...

    "NK won't reform that way, at least not without a regime change."

    I don't see why not. They only need to stay put and let the market evolve, as it is already happening. The failure of the currency reform should be a good enough lesson to learn from. If the Kim kid comes to power, he only needs to officially sanction the practice, and it will give him better legitimation than unbelieveble stories about his heroic feats. I'm thinking of a Chinese or Vietnamese style economy here: socialist in name, but capitalist in practice. This is a good way (maybe the only way) for the regime to stay in power. The military will be happy, as better economy means more money which means more toys for them. And if there is no need for regime change, there is no need for PLA troops either.

    This is the best case scenario. Especially if the focus on the market economy takes away from the nuclear program and border clashes. If this happened, I think all other parties would be satisfied. (Yes, even the US.)

    But the currency reform was done under the new Kim's title originally. This won't be easy to dispel. RIght now we have every indication that the Kims will not go down this route. They know their best chance is to get the US and SK back into the aid giving game, to avoid giving the PRC too much influence and forcing them to reform their economy.

    I'll never say never though.

    laopan said...

    "Military conquest is not an option, as that path leads to retaliation under America's nuclear umbrella."

    We are talking conventional warfare here. Nuclear umbrella only comes to play if the Chinese or North Koreans employ the bomb first. I doubt the US would strike first.

    As of today, the US is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons first. Furthermore, the Obama administration has stated that "all options are on the table" when dealing with rogue states (or states not party/no longer party to the nuclear non-profilieration treaty). I think your assumptions are wrong.

    Even if the US did refuse a nuclear first strike, they have many other options (such as deep penetration bunker bombs or clusterbombs) that they could use to thwart an invasion.

    laopan said...

    Besides, who knows what will become of the US nuclear umbrella and Far-Eastern alliance system in 60 years.

    That's a good point.

    laopan said...

    What is likely though is that in six decades China will be stronger in conventional warfare, especially in its own backyard.

    I agree completely. Still, remember that SK has double the population of NK right now, which means that the PRC would need double the troops (2-3 million troops) to occupy and control SK.
    The burden would be far more onerous than occupying NK only.

    laopan said...

    Which means reunification under the northern flag is more likely.

    I disagree completely. A number of scenarios strike me as much more likely:
    (continued in next comment)

    ReplyDelete
  33. (and in no particular order)

    1) NK collapses, and SK manages to deftly play the international political and legal system and takes over NK with the blessing of the UN. Reunification happens under the SK system, but significant PRC interests are present and preserved and maintained by the unified country under the agreement that SK and the PRC had in return for the PRC's assent at the UN. (E.g., No refugees, no non-UN approved troops, no US troops stations above the 38th parallel, etc.)

    2) NK collaspes, and SK takes over NK unilaterally (with or without US help), justifying it under SK's domestic legal system and constitution. The PRC is not able (or is domestically unwilling) to stop this from happening.

    3) NK collapses, and the PRC sends troops in to maintain stability. Eventually, NK unifies with the PRC to become a new province, a move angering many Koreans and moving SK to be more anti-China than ever.

    4) NK collapses, and both SK and the PRC send troops in. The resulting clashes firmly push SK back onto an anti-China stance.

    5) Scenarios 2, 3, or 4 happen, but agreement is reach by the PRC and SK (and US and Russia, etc) to prop up a new regime and leave NK an independent country that reforms. Korean reunification later happens under equal terms by a unification treaty between NK and SK.

    6) NK doesn't collapse but simply has a regime change. The new government reforms, and later Korean reunification happens under equal terms by a unification treaty between NK and SK.

    7) NK collapses, the PRC sends troops in and takes over. But they deftly maneuver the international political and legal systems and get permission from the UN to run NK as the UN's "trustee", turning NK into a true puppet state. Later, they convince SK to reunify with NK on terms highly favorable to the PRC's interests, but allow the unified Korea to keep SKs flag to sweeten the deal a little bit.

    8) NK survives under the new Kim for many decades, and by the time NK collapses, it has been so long that the geopolitical situation of the entire world has changed, such that the PRC and the US and SK are all allied and on the exact same page with identical interests in NK. What happens next is mutally agreed upon by all parties involved, and is implemented rather straightforwardly. Again, SK gets to keep it's flag as a deal sweetener.

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  34. As an incredibly frustrated Korean, I say we go to war and get this over and done with. I am tired of seeing my country being pushed around; I am tired of my country continuously being told what it can and cannot do by Washington DC and Beijing. Let's just go in with guns blazing and kill each and every one of those commie dogs. Yes, people will die but this war should have been over a long time ago. And if the Chinese decide to invade, well, we'll just have to kill them too, won't we?

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  35. @FarFromKorea

    “But the currency reform was done under the new Kim's title originally. This won't be easy to dispel. RIght now we have every indication that the Kims will not go down this route.”

    The guy who was held responsible for the currency reform was executed this spring. That seems to me an unofficial admission of the fact that the reform was wrong, and an attempt to deny the responsibility of the Kim family. From what I hear, the entire country now runs on black market trade. Private savings will thus grow again, and if another currency reform is not an option anymore, the regime will have little choice other than go with the flow. Especially since not even party cadres seem to have lost faith and be quite cynical about the system. Kim Jong Un’s coming to power should be a good excuse. He is probably not an idealistic communist either, to oppose market economy on principle, if he can stay in power this way. So I would still say peaceful transition to a Chinese/Vietnamese style party-guided capitalism is more likely than war with SK or the collapse of the North.

    „As of today, the US is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons first.”

    That’s exactly why I think they won’t do it again. It would be to hard on their image. No excuses this time. Besides, the South Koreans wouldn’t be happy either, I guess, to capture a radioactive wasteland. There was talk of using tactical nuclear warheads in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they decided against it after all.

    „Still, remember that SK has double the population of NK right now, which means that the PRC would need double the troops (2-3 million troops) to occupy and control SK.”

    True. But that could balance out in a few decades, if the economy starts to grow. Maybe not in the entire population, but at least in the number of military-age men.

    (cont.)

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  36. @FarFromKorea

    (continued)

    „Reunification under a pro-China "blood ties" one-Korea might be possible in the long term, if NK did reform and enough decades have past that the economy has improved to the point where the sides are roughly equal. (Over this time scale, reunification under a pro-US democratic one-Korea is probably just as likely, if not more so.)”

    My comment on the likeliness of Northern reunification was meant as an answer to this paragraph. That is, if we suppose that in the long run, 1, the regime reforms 2, therefore NK doesn’t collapse and 3, its economy will develop under Chinese influence until roughly equal with the South’s 4, China will be stronger than the US in the Far East; than NK might be in a better position to dictate the terms of reunification. (Roughly your No. 6 scenario.)

    Of course, if the Kims are indeed very stupid, and the North collapses, anything could happen. But I don’t think they are really that stupid. I'm an optimist that way.

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  37. correction:

    "Especially since not even party cadres seem to have lost faith and be quite cynical about the system."

    Especially since NOW ...

    ReplyDelete
  38. @laopan,

    What it comes down to is can the Kims reform or not? People will remember that the currency reform was done in the new Kims name (even if they try to rewrite history to make it otherwise) and the widespread discontentment with him in general, along with the loss of faith by even party cadres, and the current response of using a show of military force (propping up the military first policy - again done in lil Kim's name) at least suggest that they won't.

    Anyways, even if your unlikely scenario of 1,2,3,4 came true, the end result would more likely be reunification under a unification treaty rather than an invasion of SK. All countries involved would just have too much to lose, in terms of lives lost and damage to their respective economies, whereas a peaceful reunification could be a big win without costing them anything. The PRC would have to worry about international condemnation of the invasion, and the US would feel a lot of domestic and international pressure to send forces and weaponry in to defend a country under the defense umbrella (even if no nukes were used).

    Finally, I ask why your optimistic scenario is a successful PRC-NK invasion and conquest of SK? You prefer war to peaceful unification?

    @grimhunter74,

    I agree with you completely. A peaceful solution would be better, but the actions of the NK regime continue to suggest that no such solution exists.

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  39. Not necessarily through military conquest; I mean any reunification in the long term, with the conditions listed above, seems to favor the North. The US might not be there by then; China definitely will be. Military power helps to dictate terms even if there is not an actual war.

    Of course, you might be right, reunification could happen under the southern flag, but I think (again, with economic reform) time will work for the North, as China's and NK's absolute and relative (to US and South) force in the region will grow.

    My optimism is for the Kims being sensible and allowing economic reform, which you also called the best case scenario above.

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  40. Wow.

    China ready to abandon North Korea from Wikileaks

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/29/wikileaks-cables-china-reunified-korea

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  41. laopan,

    The Korean is afraid that he does not share that optimism. The fact that KJU's first economic policy was the currency reform speaks volumes -- it shows that: (1) KJU wanted to absorb the black market economy into the state-led communist economy once again; (2) KJU lacks the most basic understanding of how market economy works. (If you print money indiscriminately, of course there will be a runaway infliation.)

    The Korean does not think KJU would learn much from the currency reform either -- if North Korean regime is capable of learning anything (or at least, learning that their economic system is unsustainable,) it would have learned a great deal from the massive starvation that killed millions during the 1990s. But North Korea is the same as ever.

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  42. People downplay this detail:
    From the AP - The skirmish began when Pyongyang warned the South Korea to halt military drills in the area, according to South Korean officials. When the ROK refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters, the North retaliated by bombarding the small island of Yeonpyeong, which houses South Korean military installations….
    It doesn't excuse everything but I don't understand why ROK needs to conduct those drills with the U.S. military right by the border? Isn't that a BIT antagonistic? I'd like to know if North Korea conducts those kinds of military drills in view like that, muscling around?
    How would it look if North Korea AND Chinese troops of 30,000 regularly, yearly conducting military drills in plain view like that to the South Koreans every year.
    Hm...

    ReplyDelete

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