The already strained relations between North and South Korea came under increased pressure on Wednesday, but John Feffer, a co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, believes that 2012 might bring some dramatic changes in the countries’ relations.
“You know, 2012 is a big year, the South Korean election will take place,” he said. ”If we saw a new administration in South Korea, yes we could possibly see some changes, because Lee Myung-bak’s government has been pretty hardline towards North Korea after ten years of engagement policies by its predecessor.”
“Kim Jong Un is a big question mark. We have no idea what Kim Jong-Il’s son would do if he became leader of North Korea. However, we have seen some minor changes in North Korea itself in terms of economic changes, growth of markets and the rise of a bourgeoisie. There is a possibility that 2012 will see some dramatic changes.”
On Wednesday, North Korea fired three shells into the waters near its maritime border, prompting Seoul to return fire.
John Feffer believes that if the conflict escalates, the repercussions could be very serious with so many people living close to the demilitarized zone.
“Both North and South Korea have a tremendous amount of artillery facing one another, a huge number of soldiers,” he said. “North Korea has a nuclear program, but it is unlikely that it actually has an effective nuclear weapon.”
The line between the two states was drawn in 1953 but remains a bone of contention. And Feffer pointed out that there have been clashes in this area for a long time.
“There have been clashes around this rich crab-fishing area. There have been clashes because of the naval facilities that both sides have near the northern limit line, clashes because of disagreements over where the line goes.”
Just a month ago the two countries agreed to return to the negotiating table. But John Feffer believes the prospects for discussions at this point are rather dim.
“There was some hesitation about whether the peace talks would continue even after the discussions and before this outbreak,” he said. “There has been a lot of tension between North and South Korea. There has been a lot of tension between North Korea and many of its neighbors, including of course across the ocean the United States.”
North Korea’s envoy has recently been to Washington for talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. John Feffer says that the discussion was preliminary and did not make any progress in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
“The United States, the Obama administration has been very clear that this is only very preliminary,” he said. “They don’t want to suggest that the US is about to sit down any time soon until North Korea jumps through several more hoops. And North Korea has indicated that it is not enthusiastic about jumping through those hoops any time soon.”
“Those hoops would include, perhaps, some indication that North Korea is serious about denuclearization,” he explained. “At the moment North Korea has not given any of those indications.”