JEJUDO ISLAND ― The reemergence of the Cold-War political structure amid the East-West standoff over the Ukraine crisis could benefit North Korea as it would put the isolated state under the protective umbrella of one of the two competing blocs, said a North Korea expert.
During an interview with The Korea Herald, Rudiger Frank, professor at the University of Vienna, also pointed out that "Cold War 2.0" would pose a policy challenge to South Korea as it would limit Seoul's bilateral diplomacy with Pyongyang.
"Whatever happens between the two Koreas will, like in the first Cold War, be a matter of principle, and a dealing between the two blocs, not just between the two Koreas," he said during the interview on the sidelines of the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity.
"Obviously, that would reduce the manoeuvring space for the South Korean government."
Noting that Seoul's North Korea policy has swung from one extreme to another on the political spectrum, the professor also stressed the need to forge national consensus and a long-term, bipartisan policy to pursue reunification.
The following is an excerpt from the interview with Dr. Frank.
The Korea Herald: Why do you think North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with his secret ambitions, does not seem to care much about the external relations when his regime argues it cares about improving the economy and the livelihoods of his starving people?
Rudiger Frank: Because he knows that economic relations is a double-edged sword. It is beneficial because it brings money into your country, but it also creates dependency. He cares about dependency on countries that are his political adversaries like South Korea and the US Japan is so-so.
You see that they are taking new steps toward normalization. I think this is clearly driven by a desire for economic cooperation, but of course in order to put political pressure on South Korea and the US And Kim Jong-un's major economic partner is China and that does work very well.
I think it works too well that Kim is very worried about the fact that his economy, foreign trade, is very strongly dependent on China. So they are trying a diversification strategy. So expanding economic contacts with other countries is also a strategic decision.
KH: Pyongyang wants the resumption of the six-party talks. Do you think the North is sincere in its intentions? Do you think the North will ever be willing to bargain away its nuclear programme?
Frank: I think North Koreans are really benefitting from the current global political situation, especially the standoff between the US and Russia in Ukraine. The six party talks have been initiated with the logic on the North Korean side that it is "North Korea, China and Russia" versus "the US, Japan plus South Korea."
And that didn't play out because at the end of the day, it was North Korea versus the US, Japan and South Korea. Russia would do very little, and China would be kind of reluctant. Now, the situation has changed. We are returned to Cold War 2.0 and in that situation, North Korea would feel much more safe and secure.
This is why they don't mind resuming the six-party talks in order to give them diplomatic recognition, in order to let them have a channel for bilateral talks with the US I don't think that would lead to denuclearization. They might agree to some freeze or some inspection or something, but they will never ever give up nuclear weapons, at least in the foreseeable future.