World needs young Kim to succeed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am


It may have been melodramatic for a North Korean TV news anchor to describe as an 'evil misdeed' South Korea's decision to prevent individuals crossing the border to pay their respects to the late Kim Jong-il, after Pyongyang had extended a welcome to them. True, it had declared official delegations unwelcome, but it is unfortunate Seoul made exceptions only for groups led by a former first lady and a business leader, both of whose spouses had ties to North Korea. After all, it was an occasion when people usually put aside their differences and bridge family divisions. The South missed a chance to show goodwill.

It is not too late, however, for Seoul and its ally, Washington, to reach out to Pyongyang. It would be timely, given that North Korea now has a young, inexperienced leader whose first priority must be to consolidate his grip on power whatever the demigod-like titles bestowed on him by officials and state media. We can only guess at the reasons for the war-like provocations under Kim Jong-il's rule, including the shelling of South Korean civilians, the sinking by a torpedo of a South Korean naval vessel and various missile firings. If the South has concerns that Kim Jong-un and his inner circle could be tempted to consolidate their power with similar hostile actions, it would be understandable given that they have already reaffirmed a freeze on contacts with Seoul.

However obnoxious the regime, a successful transition of power is in everyone's interests in the short term because it offers hope of stability. This is particularly true of China, which could face a humanitarian crisis on its border with North Korea in the event of internal instability. With the longer term in mind, the US and the South should persist with moves to get food aid moving again to relieve chronic hardship and shortages while China nudges its troublesome ally towards a more positive stance, including agreement to resume six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearisation. Washington has done no harm to prospects of such an outcome by adopting a relatively low profile, while consulting other parties to the talks.