|Korea crisis: Straight shooter and loss
By Gary LaMoshi
KONG - While the administration of US President George W
Bush blandly assures all that it can handle
nuclear-armed North Korea through diplomacy, it refuses
to deploy the best diplomatic tool, direct talks.
Ignoring the apparent non sequitur, the position also
betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Asian
cultures, one that has plagued US policy in the region
The Bush people don't want to be
drawn into negotiations with North Korea because they
don't want to reward that rogue regime for bad behavior.
Their newly unveiled policy of "tailored containment"
would be laughable if the situation weren't so serious.
This strategy relies on isolating North Korea to
bring about its collapse. News flash: 50 years of
isolation have made North Korea - the Hermit Kingdom -
what it is today, the most dangerous state on the
planet. Moreover, this policy requiring "maximum
multilateral cooperation", according to a senior Bush
administration official, doesn't have any of North
Korea's neighbors on board.
Letting South Korea
take the diplomat lead in the neighborhood would have
been a smart US move to win that cooperation. However,
it appears that South Korea, which has the most to lose
from a nuclear North, has jumped into the void left by
the Bush administration in search of a way out.
Most fundamentally, Bush
policy makers fail to realize that North Korea's Dear
Leader Kim Jong-il doesn't want more food aid or fuel or
even nuclear weapons, really. What he wants most of all
The concept of giving face is not
unique to Asia, but it is most highly prized here. It
means showing respect in a public way that acknowledges
the status of the other fellow. It's similar to what
goes on in Western business between bosses and peons.
But unlike corporate brown-nosing, it doesn't imply a
subordinate relationship. Giving face is not necessarily
about lowering yourself - then you would lose face -
it's about respecting and acknowledging the status of
the other guy in full view of others.
incredibly simple, but it runs counter to some deeply
held American values, such as honesty. A "straight
shooter" who doesn't sugarcoat what he or she thinks
wins respect in the United States, even if the message
is unwelcome. In Asia, straight shooters would be taking
public potshots at the other side's face, making
themselves, and whomever they represent, pariahs.
People in Asia take face very seriously, and the
loss of face even more so. When Bush met with South
Korean President Kim Dae-jung and questioned the wisdom
of the Nobel laureate's "Sunshine Policy" toward the
North, it wasn't just an insult to the only statesman in
the room, it was a slap at North Korea.
Bush then proceeded, without apparent provocation, to
include North Korea in his "axis of evil", that was a
direct insult not only to Dear Leader Kim but to every
advisor who had urged cooperation rather than
confrontation with the West, and a clear signal that the
United States wanted to remain North Korea's enemy.
We'll never know whether North Korea was cheating on its
nuclear promises all along, but the loss of face
inflicted by the Bush people, in Asian eyes, was a clear
provocation. It would be impossible to consider any
nation that delivered such a public insult as a
potential friend or trustworthy partner.
Wrong for human rights
The failure to
give face is behind the failure of US policy to produce
meaningful human rights reforms in China despite three
decades of otherwise constructive engagement. Lecturing
China publicly about human rights and introducing
resolutions of condemnation in international forums
makes cheap domestic political points with the best
friends and worst enemies of Jesse Helms, while
stiffening Beijing's resolve to stand up to these
pressures. The Chinese people pay the price.
better way to promote change is to praise Beijing
publicly, call it a great power and America's most
important partner for progress and stability on the
Asian mainland. Let the CNN and Chinese Central TV
cameras whir as US leaders embrace their Chinese
Behind closed doors, lay down the
law to Beijing. These are US conditions for giving China
what it wants. If new leader Hu Jintao hopes to come to
the United States for a state visit, here are the
political prisoners China must release. If China wants
to list another dud state company on the New York Stock
Exchange, then it needs to stop jamming the Voice of
America. If China wants the US to consider excluding
Taiwan from its missile-defense umbrella, then Beijing
must stop pressing for a draconian sedition law in Hong
Kong ... you get the idea.
And when the meeting
is over, don't forget to smile warmly for the cameras
and praise the useful and productive discussions with
our Chinese partners. If the Chinese want to be
sourpusses and ruin the public love fest, let them. But
they won't, of course, because they'd lose face.
Smile for the camera
The same formula
can be applied to North Korea. The North wants direct
talks with the United States and, eventually, to
negotiate a non-aggression pact. So give them face with
a meeting and a photo op for North Korean TV and its
dozens of viewers, along with the international media.
Alone across the table, tell the North Korea
side that their possession of nuclear weapons and plans
to produce more are completely unacceptable, and
delineate US demands for resolving this crisis. Since
the Bush people appear at a loss as to how to defuse the
situation effectively, here's my suggestion. I'd inform
North Korea that it has six to 12 hours to admit an
international team (including South Koreans) that will
shut down all of its nuclear facilities and take
possession of North Korea's nuclear weapon, as Kim's
regime renounces nuclear weapons forever. Once that's
done, North Korea can request talks with South Korea and
even the United States to negotiate a permanent peace on
the peninsula, non-aggression pacts, or anything else it
If North Korea doesn't meet the deadline
or shows any sign of aggressive action before it, US
bombers already in the air will level Pyongyang and
every nuclear facility in North Korea. I'd have the text
of President Bush's address to the nation (conveniently
translated into Korean for the Dear Leader) explaining
why the United States was compelled to take this action
- the Bush administration's flimsy justifications for
war with Iraq actually apply in large part to North
Korea - set for delivery in the event of hostilities.
I'd also assure the North Koreans that the US
knows exactly where the Dear Leader is, and that there
is not a cave in the country deep enough for him to hide
in. Whether that's true or not is beside the point;
truthfulness is a far less important Asian value than
This process conforms to the Bush
administration's position that there will be no
negotiations with North Korea and that Kim Jong-il
cannot gain any advantage through violating previous
agreements. But it places the US demands where they will
be clearly heard and understood in a way that leaking
them to friendly reporters in Washington does not. And
it very publicly gives North Korea face.
the American team walks out of the meeting with big
smiles and praise for the constructive talks and open
attitudes of the North Korean side that will surely lead
to a fruitful, mutually beneficial outcome. One danger
is that the North Korean regime is less rational than
China's and might leave the meeting blabbing about
American arrogance and the insult to the North Korean
people. It might even reveal the US demands. If so, it'd
wind up losing face, and a whole lot more.
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