Today (April 12th) I went to the European Institute of Asian Studies in the Rue de la Loi for a briefing on North Korea by H.E. Mr. Ja Song-Nam, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), London, UK. We also heard some comments from the European Commission’s Desk Officer for North Korea, the affable Bram Brands, who emphasised that while he worked for the Commission, he was speaking in a personal capacity.
I caught the eye of former MEP and NK expert Glyn Ford, who was chairing the event, and as so often happens I managed to get in the first question. I asked:
“If I can prevail upon your patience, Chairman, I should like to ask two questions. The first is for our Commission Desk Officer, who emphasised that he was speaking in a personal capacity. Why was this? Does the European External Action Service” (the EEAS, headed up by the Noble Baroness Cathy Ashton) “not have a view on this question? If it has a view, should we not have heard it?
“My second question is for the Ambassador. He has emphasised the priority which the DPRK gives to maintaining the fragile stability in the region, and he says that the DPRK developed nuclear weapons with that objective in mind. He refers in passing to the “two recent incidents”, and complains that no one in the EU is ready to listen to the position of North Korea on these incidents. But we are ready and eager to listen. Could the Ambassador please explain to us how sinking a Korean Frigate, and shelling a South Korean island, contributed to the objective of maintaining peace and stability?”.
It’s worth mentioning that in terms of exchanges between MEPs and Ambassadors, this was a particularly robust question, and caused some sharp intakes of breath around the room. I was referring, of course, to the sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan on March 26th 2010, with the deaths of 46 seamen, and the subsequent shelling in November 2010 by the North of Yeonpyeong, a South Korean island close to the border, with four deaths.
Mr. Brands’ reply was disappointing. The Commission had set out its position in 2007, and what Mr. Brands had said (as a personal opinion) was in line with the Commission policy. I was left wondering why he had been at such pains to emphasise that he spoke in a personal capacity.
The Ambassador’s reply was perhaps more interesting, though it took us no further forward. He simply denied DPRK involvement in the Cheonan incident, despite the fact that the remains of an NK torpedo were found with the wreck. And his killer evidence? A crab found in the torpedo (I assume it was a dead crab) was a species only found in the East Sea (on the right-hand side of the Korean peninsula), not in the West Sea (on the left-hand side between Korea and China), where the sinking took place. Therefore the torpedo must have been recovered by the South Koreans or the Americans in the East Sea and mendaciously planted in the sunken frigate. Perhaps we should stop saying “and pigs fly”, and say instead that crabs migrate.
On the shelling, it was in retaliation for South Korean live fire exercises in disputed waters — and we had to remember that the two Koreas are still (technically) in a state of war. They signed an armistice in 1953, but never a peace treaty. You may wonder why the DPRK is happy to kill four people in order to make its point.
Yet again, we had a dialogue of the deaf. The Ambassador was telling us things that we know are not true, and that he knows are not true, but it’s part of his job to keep repeating the party line. Churchill was right that “Jaw jaw is better than war war”, but this Jaw Jaw takes us nowhere.