01/24/2014, 00.00
KOREA - CHINA
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On the brink of bankruptcy, Kim Jong-un writes to Seoul calling for an end to hostility

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
An open letter signed by North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission calls for to end to the tensions and the re-opening of communication channels. Analysts and experts see it as a "pre-emptive strike" to undercut upcoming military drills between Seoul and Washington. Source tells AsiaNews that North Korea "needs money and does not want to become a Chinese protectorate."

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The North Korean regime has sent an unusual open letter to the South Korean government calling for joint steps towards reconciliation, a stop to "all hostile military acts" and the reopening as soon as possible of communication channels along on the 38th parallel. In the South, the letter was met with scepticism with many asking for "deeds, not words." According to the media of both nations, the letter was dated 16 January.

"What is important for paving a wide avenue for mending North-South relations is to make a bold decision to stop all hostile military acts, the biggest hurdle stoking distrust and confrontation," the letter from North Korea's National Defence Commission (NDC) said.

"The DPRK [North Korea] has already unilaterally opted for halting all acts of getting on the nerves of South Korea and slandering it."

"Regretfully, the South Korean authorities still remain unchanged in [their] improper attitude and negative stand," it said, adding that the South "should not thoughtlessly doubt, misinterpret and rashly reject our sincere, important proposal".

However, in his reply, South Korean defence ministry spokesman Wi Yong-seop noted, "The most important military tactic is to figure out the enemy's hidden motive."

Existing tensions, he added, were the result of "North Korea's military provocations" and that "the current situation can be resolved if North Korea stops threatening and hostile rhetoric".

Analysts and experts on the Kims' regime, the last Stalinist dictatorship in the world, are still trying to figure out what the open letter means.

They note the absence of North Korea's usual insults against the South, like "US puppets," " traitors," and "corrupt bourgeois and decadent."

Others point to the letter's timing, a few weeks before the annual joint South Korea-US military exercises.

Last year's war games (March 2013) had sparked a furious reaction from Pyongyang, which escalated tensions by threatening US bases in Guam and Hawaii with a missile attack.

Today, some experts believe that, if the exercises are held as scheduled, the North would have the "perfect excuse" to respond with force, accusing Seoul of "deliberately ignoring" the peace offer made ​​in the letter.

A source working closely with exiles from the north told AsiaNews that another factor is worth mentioning.

"The Pyongyang regime has run out of money, or if it has not finished it yet it is very close to bankruptcy. Anyone who has contacts with them knows and sees it. The infrastructure is in a sorry state. Even the military, once the elite of the country, seem to be worse off. Kim needs economic aid and he know that he can get it only by détente with the South."

The South Korean government has always supported the people of North Korea. Medicines, food and basic rehabilitation projects pass through NGOs and organisations, especially Catholic and Protestant groups, which for free help abandoned children, rural population and people suffering from TB (which is endemic in the North).

South Korean tourists visiting Mount Kumgang, one of the peninsula's 'three sacred mountains, are a source of foreign currency. Money sent by South Koreans to their relatives in the North is another factor.

Kim's military provocations stopped the flow, which restarted in the past year after the regime showed some flexibility vis-à-vis foreign volunteers.

"The alternative is to become a province of China," the source said."  Although Pyongyang's main sponsor, Beijing is tired of throwing its money [at North Korea] and told the regime to open up Special Economic Zones and foreign investment channels. But in so doing, North Korea is likely to become a de facto Chinese protectorate, undermining the dictator's image even with his countrymen."

Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un's uncle and tutor, was in charge of relations with China. He was North Korea's point man in Sino-North Korean joint 'Special Economic Zones' in the north of the country.

On 8 December, the nephew sentenced him to death for "treason", effectively cutting the bridges with his old patron.

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