New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) North Korea's rising GDP and sprouting new private sector have proved wrong projections of its collapse, and one will have to tread cautiously to put a lid on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, keeping in mind what any miscalculation may cost, an expert has said.
The miscalculation factor should be kept in mind, especially as Seoul is 50 km away from the North Korea border, former Indian envoy to South Korea Vishnu Prakash said at a talk here on Tuesday on 'Recent Developments in the Korean Peninsula: Reactions to North Korean Nuclear and Missile Activities'.
The Korean peninsula continues to be a dangerous flashpoint even after some 65 years of armistice between the two.
Prakash acknowledged that during this period, the two halves have gone their separate ways. The South has become arguably the greatest economic success story of the 20th century while the North has acquired the dubious distinction of becoming the last "hermit kingdom" on the planet. Demographic differences are also popping up between the two countries which has led him to believe that unification may not be ideal. Instead he suggests "soft opening of borders" can be thought of as a solution, during a round table discussion organised by Institute of Chinese Studies.
He admitted that the DPRK leadership has "very well informed poker players with aggressive brinkmanship who know when to pull back". "North Korea has become a very smart regime which has learnt its lesson from other totalitarian regimes like Egypt, Iraq and USSR," he said.
The projections of its collapse have been proven wrong with its increasing GDP and sprouting new private sector. Being isolated, the UN sanctions to control Pyongyang only had an opposite effect and the threats have only steeled the North's resolve to enhance its offensive capability, he noted. "Talks and blandishments have been futile." He also asserted that "a strong connection with Pakistan has emerged" which has helped the North improve its Weapons of Mass Destruction programme.
He believes that Chinese leverage "has weakened a bit but if it wishes to, it can cripple North Korea by cutting off trade and energy".
Prakash said the election of liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in is significant. He said Moon is a liberal who favours a more open policy toward North Korea, therefore "if he brings wider consultations on THAAD, the concerns might ease".
According to the former envoy, "China will play ball as it doesn't want the US or its allies crawling across the Yalu river" (a river on the border between North Korea and China). He said "Trump is a Democrat at heart" but his methods such as alluring China has increased worries in the minds of all its allies, including South Korea.
To a question if it is possible to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle he said, "No, North Korea is a de facto nuclear power" and "we have to work around it keeping in mind what any miscalculation may cost". The only possibility that he foresaw was of "total moratorium or total freeze" on the nuclear issue.
Sandip Kumar Mishra, Associate Professor from the Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said "April has been troublesome for both the sides of the peninsula but overall it seems that America has been more aggressive".
He felt the US' "inconsistency and ignorance" about North Korea will "prove to be expensive".
Mishra thinks the "mismatch" of governments in the US and South Korea have created problems to have policies of engagement between the two. According to him, the basic problem is approaching the new South Korean government and the only way forward is to have a dialogue like Iran.
Both the speakers believe that the conundrum is posited at a crossroad and in next few months its contours and directions would be clearer.
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