Saving Face in Korea

From The Guardian:

North Korea’s main nuclear test site has partially collapsed under the stress of multiple explosions, possibly rendering it unsafe for further testing and leaving it vulnerable to radiation leaks, a study by Chinese geologists has shown.

The findings could cast doubt on North Korea’s sincerity in announcing last weekend that it would stop testing nuclear weapons at the site ahead of Friday’s summit between the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in.

Why would the findings cast doubt on North Korea’s sincerity? I’d have thought it would confirm them.

Of course, what The Guardian is saying is that North Korea is only pledging to stop nuclear testing because the site is unusable, and they may be right. However, it probably doesn’t matter. What this does is give Kim Jong-un a way of saving face in front of both his adversaries (who are glad nuclear testing will be stopped) and his subjects back home (who will see it as a smart trick, conceding something they no longer have). Saving face is of immense importance in Asian cultures, and Korean is no exception: if one side will lose face, chances are there will be no deal. If this is a route to there being no more nuclear testing in North Korea and all sides are happy, who cares how it comes about?

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18 thoughts on “Saving Face in Korea

  1. It’s kind of the same as the recent NY Times article titled:

    As Two Koreas Talk Peace, Trump’s Bargaining Chips Slip Away

    Why would he need bargaining chips if the pair of Koreans are buddying up, this has actually just made Trump’s job easier! They are all just busy manufacturing new bullshit narratives to replace the old.

  2. As Two Koreas Talk Peace, Trump’s Bargaining Chips Slip Away

    “As Hitler shoots himself in his bunker, Churchill’s war rhetoric leaves him increasingly isolated”

  3. from the article

    “The talk of peace is likely to weaken the two levers that Mr. Trump used to pressure Mr. Kim to come to the bargaining table.”

  4. “The talk of peace is likely to weaken the two levers that Mr. Trump used to pressure Mr. Kim to come to the bargaining table.”

    Wow. Because Trump won, the two levers he used successfully to win have now been weakened. Even though he won bigly so doesn’t need the levers any more.

    Wut?

    That’s coming over all Steely Dan* right there.

    *Album, “Pretzel Logic”, 1974. I’ll get my coat….

  5. Good point Tim, Hitler shooting himself shows that WWII was a bit of an unnecessary over-reaction? If only we could send the current crop of journalists back to 1946 to educate people properly. (I will settle for send anywhere….)

  6. Trump deserves credit for the North/South negotiations, but he is likely to get more than he bargained for, and the US, Japan, Russia and China might get a very unpleasant surprise.

    Moon is an anti-American, and he really wants reconciliation with the North, something the North wants, too. Their common race, language, culture and history, especially their brutal colonization by Japan, means that there are all sorts of internal pressures in both the North and South driving them to cooperate.

    Together, any sort of North/South confederation would be a major regional power. Considering what the North has achieved in the face of intense opposition and sabotage by the US and its allies, the achievements of cooperating North and South might be extraordinary, and not to our liking.

    It is not at all obvious the South wants the North to disarm. They want a voice in how the North’s nukes and rockets are used. Moreover, they are united in their anti-Japanese feelings. Any alliance involving both Japan and any part of Korea is an absurdity. And one outcome of the negotiations is likely to be an undoing of the US/Japanese/South Korean alliance.

  7. >If only we could send the current crop of journalists back to 1946 to educate people properly.

    God no, don’t send them to 1946, we’d all be under the World Commnunist Government by now.

    Send them back to… let’s just say my hand slipped when adjusting the dial, and they went back a little further than intended.

  8. The North Koreans have achieved eating grass. As far as I know they are world leaders in casting enormous bronze statues and counterfeiting money. That’s it.

    East Germany was easily the strongest of all Communist economies. The Western half is still miles ahead of it three decades after unification.

    Uniting Korea will come at a massive cost to the South. They’ll be tied down for decades, if not a century.

    They’ll still do it of course.

    And they, like the Japanese will do without nuclear weapons. They have no intention of throwing their weight around externally, and with unification will have no enemies. Nuclear programs are an expensive hobby.

  9. @bob sykes

    “the achievements of cooperating North and South might be extraordinary, and not to our liking”

    You mean even better and cheaper Samsung phones and Hyundai cars, at the terrible price of abandoning communism and mass starvation? I think we should take that risk.

  10. I think Chinese would stop any potential reunification of two Korean because they would not want successful capitalist country right on their doorstep, ChiComs will want to retain their buffer.

    I taught English in South Korea twenty years ago and there was no great desire to reunify with North because it would be expensive and extremely difficult to rehabilitate people who were suffering under communist rule. Of course, mood of South Koreans could be completely different now but I wouldn’t count on it.

  11. “Send them back to… let’s just say my hand slipped when adjusting the dial, and they went back a little further than intended.”

    We could have some truly woke dinosaurs….or maybe that’s what happened and explains the species failure.

  12. I think what the Guardian is trying to say is “It’s not Trump’s accomplishment.”
    Which, thinking about it, is just another form of face-saving for the punditocracy. We’ll see how that interpretation goes…

  13. I have two thoughts …

    When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. For the Pillsbury doughboy, the destruction of (more than likely) ONE of his nuclear test facilities is the lemon but he can make lemonade by declaring that he is giving up his nuclear ambitions. It will buy him time to rebuild and reorganise while the rest of the world is fixated on the “Peace Process” ™ and the pressure is off.

    We have seen this in Iraq with Weapons of Mass Destruction when Saddam Hussein moved his chemical warfare weapons and research facilities elsewhere (which is why I am unconvinced about who is to blame for the chemical agent attacks in Syria – in the confusion, some were bound to be lost and picked up by others).

    Similarly, by the time that the agreements about inspections and terms and conditions have been thrashed out with Rocket Man, any weapons and research and manufacturing facilities will have been well dispersed and hidden.

    Secondly, why the sudden change of heart? If I were Trump, I would have had a quiet word with the Chinese along the lines of “OK, I understand you don’t want a country allied with the US on your border and want North Korea as a buffer state but unless you stop supporting him and tell him to pull his horns in, then we WILL take it to a more aggressive level. Even if we don’t invade, then we can stop trading with you, increase import tariffs (insert here any other desired ways of causing China pain without full scale thermonuclear war) etc.” China recently suspended flights from North Korea into China which is significant in Communist signalling terms, if nothing else.

    North Korea might be trying to sucker everyone else into dropping their guard and the pressure for America to reduce or withdraw all troops from the peninsula now that peace has been declared will be strong. Once he has to deal only with the South Korean army, the odds are much better for him and having a few nuclear warheads as his trump cards up his sleeve will likely guarantee success if he decides to invade.

    As the Chinese say, interesting times, eh?

  14. @jwl

    “I think Chinese would stop any potential reunification of two Korean because they would not want successful capitalist country right on their doorstep, ChiComs will want to retain their buffer.”
    Maybe 30 years ago…. But they seem OK with all the other successful capitalist countries right on their doorstep

    Now the Chinese will probably just look at it as another export market.

  15. Gorbachev halts all Soviet nuclear testing.* All hail Gorby the hero.

    *Kazakhstan, where the main test sites are, won’t let them test anymore.

  16. Kim Jong Un did took a secure train ride to Beijing about a month ago and got a personal briefing by the Chinese leader on their desire in the matter. Chinese are in on this situation.

  17. It’s like climate change science. We need to cut coal but, if we replace coal with fracked oil and gas which are much less polluting, the world is still fukced

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