North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has reportedly told Chinese interlocutors he is "sorry" about testing a nuclear weapon and is willing to resume participation in the so-called Six-Party Talks.
It is predictable that diplomats in this country and elsewhere will seek to parlay this "breakthrough" into new negotiations. If past practice is any guide, however, these talks will translate into additional strategic, financial and political concessions for the North, even as it continues building its nuclear weapon stockpile and perfecting its long-range ballistic missile programs the very actions such concessions are meant to foreclose.
Rather than fall for this gambit yet again, the United States needs to adopt a wholly different strategy one aimed at bringing down Mr. Kim's regime, not propping it up. Only by so doing, is there a chance of avoiding the cataclysm that will result as the despot of Pyongyang aggressively brandishes, and perhaps uses, his weapons of mass destruction and/or makes them available to willing buyers.
To be sure, there are two major impediments to such a U.S. policy. The first is Communist China's determination to perpetuate this danger, rather than reverse it. It should be clear Beijing will not be a helpmate to the cause of freedom, no matter how often Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others contend it is.
The second and possibly more tractable impediment is posed by our nominal ally, South Korea. Seoul is guided by its left-wing, appeasement-minded president, Roh Moo Hyun, and the vested interests of roughly 10 publicly traded South Korean firms led by Hyundai that are determined to extend the misery Mr. Kim has inflicted on his people by simultaneously exploiting them for what amounts to slave labor, while enriching the North Korean despot. This is the effect of a variety of the North's "Social Overhead Capital" (SOC) projects underwritten by the South.
The leading edge of these projects is an industrial park at Kaesong and a major tourist resort at Mount Kumgang. Editorializing on the odious nature of these ventures last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal observed:
"The Kaesong industrial park and Mount Kumgang resort are the centerpieces of the South's misbegotten 'Sunshine Policy' of engagement with the North. They are also money machines for Kim Jong-il, contributing to the record $1 billion North-South trade last year. ... Now that U.S.-led financial sanctions have reduced the North's cash-flow from counterfeiting and drug-smuggling, money from the two sites is even more critical to the survival of Kim's regime."
The Journal noted the South Koreans responded to the unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution imposing additional sanctions on North Korea by immediately announcing the two sites would be exempt from their strictures.
The reason is not hard to fathom: According to a Web site maintained by one of Hyundai's subsidiaries [http://www.hyundai-asan.com], South Korea expects to invest nearly $15 billion in these SOC projects in the North [including construction of new power utilities ($2.3 billion); developing telecommunications networks ($6 billion); the establishing and maintaining railroads ($4.7 billion); supplying water to Mount Kumgang ($770 million); and creating a new dam on the Imjin River ($660 million).] The hope is to grow the number of North Korean laborers slaving away for roughly $1.10 per day from 8,200 to 730,000 by 2012.
Hyundai's role in all of this is central. According to the Hyundai Asan Web site, in 2000 Hyundai obtained "exclusive business rights" for all such SOC projects. These rights are "for a period of 30 years" and extend to "the concrete development, construction, blue-print, maintenance and management regarding infrastructure projects and core industries projects and related trade and others that are being financed single-handedly by Hyundai in North Korean territory or financed by a third-party nation, group, specific fund or international organization."
This sweetheart deal was reaffirmed in March 2003. The North Korean news agency reported at that time "all business rights regarding the Mount Kumgang tourism business, Kaesong Industrial complex and other SOC projects have been handed over to Hyundai."
The generous terms of this arrangement seem unlikely to have been a coincidence. In February 2003, The Washington Post reported South Korean auditors had discovered Hyundai Asan had arranged a $186 million loan from a government-owned bank in Seoul immediately before the "Sunshine Summit" in June 2000 giving rise to the widespread belief that the money was used to lubricate that meeting and the very favorable deal Hyundai received shortly thereafter.
Astonishingly, even as Hyundai is working at cross-purposes with U.S. vital interests including in Iran and Sudan, several of the company's subsidiaries were as of 2005 suppliers to the Pentagon. Another Defense Department vendor is Samsung, which is also doing business with Kim Jong-il. The Defense Department's reliance on such double-dealing vendors should be ended at once and the extent of the practice with respect to other companies that partner with terrorist-sponsoring regimes should be the subject of urgent congressional hearings.
At the same time, American citizens should immediately review their portfolios, including their pension funds (both public ones such as the Federal Thrift Savings Plan and private ones like mutual funds). Hyundai, Samsung and others companies helping our enemies should be forced to choose: Do business with American investors or do business with their enemies.
The time has come to privatize management of the North Korean crisis. Rather than rely on the Communist Chinese the putative "honest-broker" in the Six-Party Talks or our deeply conflicted allies in South Korea voluntarily to bring an end to the danger we face from Pyongyang, we must call on the American people to create incentives for ending this danger by divesting North Korea.