TOPICS:Koreas: ‘Missile rattling won’t work’

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak warned leaders in North Korea on Sunday that it would be counterproductive for Pyongyang to pursue a path involving the development of missiles that threaten its neighbours. North Korea has announced plans to test-launch its ‘Kwangmyungsung No. 2’ satellite into orbit for telecommunications purposes, but this involves ‘dual use’ technologies that are applicable to long-range missiles.

In a speech, marking an uprising against the 1910-1945 Japanese occupation of the peninsula, Lee reminded the North that its best bet lay in cooperation with the South. Observers believe that that Pyongyang is rattling its missile technology as a way to pressure the West and possibly extract more concessions. The planned satellit

launch may also be a way to show defiance of warnings made by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her Asian tour in February, against adventurism by Pyongyang involving weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea, according to observers, is developing missile technology as a bargaining chip in its dealings with the West and also to make money by selling that technology to countries like Iran and Syria. So far, North Korea has successfully used its nuclear technology card in order to extract favours from the United States and its allies in the region, Japan and S. Korea. Seoul believes, however, that the time has come for North Korea to take off its rose-tinted glasses and face the reality that it will no longer allow Pyongyang to play the brinksmanship game.

To show that it means business, Seoul has stopped unconditional aid to its impoverished neighbour and called on the North to return to the negotiating table. Pyongyang has responded by insisting that it was about to launch a communications satellite as part of a peaceful space programme. North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test in October 2006, does not yet have the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, according to experts. But it is has its neighbours worried by refusing to agree to any verification of its claims to having shut down its nuclear programme. Military insiders have said that another missile launch by North Korea would strengthen the position of hardliners in Seoul and Washington who are talking about beefing up the military as a deterrent.

Seoul has offered a carrot to induce Pyongyang to drop its nuclear ambitions in the shape of resumption of suspended economic package including food and fuel aid. South Korean manufacturers are also waiting for a chance to invest in North Korea as they find their factories in China costly to run and subject to heavy regulations.

Since Lee’s new conservative government took over in February 2008, most of the official contacts between the two Koreas have virtually been severed. If Pyongayang persists with launching its missile some 23 million North Korean people are likely to suffer. A third of that number relies on international aid of food supplies. — IPS