I have reported from inside North Korea on several occasions, travelling widely and was the first reporter to report live from the capital, Pyongyang for al Jazeera English TV. I have also travelled and reported from South Korea. None of this gives any special insight, but since so few have been able to report from the North, and even fewer travelled beyond the official sightseeing sights in the capital, it is possible to offer a different take on events now unfolding in the 'hermit State'. North Korea may be threatening as it is equally mysterious to outsiders, but with the old guard there has always been logic behind their every move, which essentially are aimed at the regime's survival. But as the North Korean's leader period of lying in State come to an end, what next?
So far the United States - North Korea's historic enemy - shown itself to be cautious and seemingly willing both not to rock the boat. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton may not have extended the hand of friendship to Kim Jong Il's chosen successor - his third son, but has at least given the impression of waiting to see what will happen next, albeit with bated breath. But an absolute key figure in the next stage could perhaps be the former South Korean Foreign Minister and second term selected Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban ki moon.
Ban is in an extremely influential and powerful position over the coming weeks and months as an honest broker, who can speak not just on behalf of the UN but the Korean people as a whole. The World should listen very carefully to the sage advice that will be offered behind the scenes from Ban ki moon, who has historically been very much a historic supporter of 'constructive engagement' with the North. Some thought must already surely have been given to the role that ban can play behind the scenes, and if all proceeds reasonably smoothly, what public role he can play in helping to restore relations between South and North, while urging the Chinese to put pressure on the new North Korean leader to move towards reform and respect for human rights. North Korea remains possibly the worst State abuser of human rights on the planet.
For North Korea is arguably more isolated now that at any point since the early 1980s Neighbouring South Korea and historic enemy Japan are starkly disengaged, or as the North Koreans would claim 'engaging in hostile policy'. North Korea's sinking of a South Korean military vessel the Cheonan in 2010 in disputed waters put paid to any possibility of a thaw there. Meanwhile China, the North's long time, albeit sometime reluctant ally is still smarting at President Obama's recent decision to station American forces in Australia. China has continued to support the Kim dynasty in the North, despite having much more substantial trade ties with South Korea and despite the fact that many Chinese look at North Korea with a sense of embarrassment. North Korea for many reminds them of their own country during the tumult of the Cultural Revolution.
Yet, the North remains an invaluable bargaining counter for the Chinese with the Americans and Japanese in particular. For their part, the North Koreans, whose leaders include key figures from the Kim Il Sung era such as Head of State Kim Yong-nam, are adept at playing one power off against another. Having watched the collapse of Saddam Hussein and more recently the Gadaffi regime in Libya, the North's veteran leadership knows just how valuable its rudimentary nuclear weapons can be in acting as a deterrent. But in a period of instability, with the prospect of the military and the ruling Workers Party competing for influence under a callow unknown new leader, the World will need to tread very carefully and hope that China continues to act as a restraining force.
A fortnight ago I was in Panmunjom, in the centre of the most militarised border of anywhere in the World, this time from the Southern side. All was quiet on this Cold War era frontier bristling with barbed wire and machine gun posts. There have been skirmishes here since the Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, but never a full blown conflict. Today, North Korea has rudimentary nuclear weapons and is about to enter a period of great instability.
Mark Seddon is a former UN Correspondent for al Jazeera English TV. His reports from inside North Korea appear in his latest book, Standing for Something, Biteback publishing
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