Threats and speculations

Almost not a day has passed without new threats or actions from North Korea recently. On Wednesday, the communist regime blocked South Koreans’ crossing the border to enter the joint industrial park in the North Korean city of Gaeseong. The move came a day after the North announced its plan to restart a shuttered nuclear reactor in Yongbyon.

Reactivating the plutonium-fueled plant is deplorable but not entirely incomprehensible, as it reflects the North’s all-out efforts for completing its nuclear weapons program. But a threat to shut down the industrial complex is hard to understand; why should Pyongyang bite the hand that feeds it? And why is the impoverished regime about to kill one of its few golden geese?

The threat doesn’t even comply with North Korea’s latest doctrine of state administration, which calls for, among other things, keeping nuclear weapons and fixing its broken economic system. It was only a few days ago Pyongyang reinstated a market economy expert to its premiership.

Pyongyang’s latest move is all the more lamentable as it came when the Federation of Korean Industries, a group representing South Korea’s family-controlled conglomerates, had expressed its intention to help the joint industrial park, in which mostly South Korean small- and medium-sized enterprises produce light industrial goods using the North’s cheap labor.

Probably the only plausible explanation for the North’s recent series of mutually-contradictory moves is the reclusive regime itself is one big mass of self-contradiction.

To most South Koreans, and other foreigners for that matter, the North Korean leadership seems to have lost its ability to make cold-headed judgment amid the escalation of threats, prolonged war of nerves with its adversaries, and the military crisis the North Koreans created themselves.

Whatever the intentions of Pyongyang ― whether scaring the South and the United States into providing more economic aid or cementing popular loyalty to its young, inexperienced leader, the vicious circle of threats, ignorance and provocations may spiral out of control in not so distant a future unless one side applies a brake first.

Currently, the so-called North Korean experts, both local and foreign, are divided over nearly everything, ranging from Pyongyang’s real intentions to the actual strength of the (North) Korean People’s Army. Most of these are little more than speculations, some are a little more educated than others. Not a single expert can say for sure what will be the unpredictable regime’s next move. One thing seems certain, however: it will be Koreans, especially South Koreans, who will have to shoulder the risks of any misjudgment or miscalculation to be made by either Koreas.

Foreigners are surprised to see South Koreans’ calmness in the face of the North’s menace. They just don’t have many choices. Underneath the ostensible composure, most of them may be wavering between, "No way!” and, ''By some possibility,” increasingly leaning to the latter.

Some South Korean activists have begun to call on both Pyongyang and Washington to restrain themselves and start dialogue. That’s a job the political leaders should have been doing.