Declaration of war in Korea (yet again)

In response to a South Korean defense minister raising the possibility of a first strike if North Korea showed clear signs of attacking with nuclear weapons, North Korea accused the South of declaring war. The defense minister was being unwise: he should have been vague enough to make North Korea wonder if South Korea would ever strike first, while not making statements that the North could unambiguously use in accusations without making themselves look like even bigger jerks than they usually come across as. On the other hand, North Korea is yet again vastly overreacting (as usual).

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Bad little North Korea

North Korea is yet again balking at dismantling its nuclear program. Given the constant hostile threats the country makes and the way they marginalize human life, they're really trying hard to make people think that they don't deserve humanitarian aid. It almost makes me wish that all aid is halted so that the current North Korean government could collapse the way their incompetence deserves.

On the other hand, withholding aid could result in thousands or even millions starving to death, so I can't quite be vocal about halting humanitarian aid to North Korea. And of course, there's the specter of war if things get too bad in the country. It's a messy dilemma they're putting the rest of the world in.

Lemmings on ActiveX

A ZDNet Korea article written in Korean talks about the dire situation of the World Wide Web in South Korea. As the rest of the world moves to open standards for the Web, too many web sites in the country have stubbornly clung to a Microsoft-centric Internet environment, where they use extensions that exist only in Internet Explorer such as ActiveX.

And ActiveX is a very poorly thought out architecture for web extensions that encourages extremely reckless behavior by ordinary users. With almost every other web site requiring ActiveX, Korean users have been trained to always click in the affirmative for any dialog boxes. This is a recipe for disaster, where it becomes too easy to infect a MS Windows computer with malicious ActiveX components. This is truly ironic, since the South Korean government pretty much mandates the use of ActiveX to supposedly provide encryption for financial web sites. A law intended to improve computer security is responsible for drastically weakening it.

Even Microsoft recognizes the problems with ActiveX and proprietary extensions. The release of MS Windows Vista caused a stir in South Korea last year since a lot of the Korean web sites would not work properly in Internet Explorer 7. And it's going to be even worse when Internet Explorer 8 is released. But instead of encouraging web sites to follow open standards, the government is begging Microsoft to maintain backwards compatibility with bad architectures.

The World Wide Web isn't the only area where South Korea is isolated from the rest of the world. South Korea is one of the few countries which uses CDMA instead of GSM for their cellular phone network, but at least there are other countries that also use the standard. Even worse are things like WIPI, a software standard for mobile phones that the South Korean government requires to be followed. WIPI is only used in South Korea, so mobile phone makers in South Korea are handicapped when developing phones for the international market.

Tourist murdered by North Korea?

The shooting that resulted in the death of a tourist last week is unacceptable by itself. There is no way North Korea could justify the lethal shooting of a 53-year old unarmed housewife, short of her being a threat to another's life or extremely sensitive facilities. And it's laughable to think that such justifying circumstances could have occurred; if she was a threat to someone's life then they would have no reason to hide it and in fact would have every reason to publicize it, and I can't believe that even the North Koreans would be incompetent enough to locate an extremely sensitive facility near a tourist resort. Anything less, even including espionage, would at most rate a detention.

While it would be bad enough if it was just an extremely unfortunate incident caused by an undisciplined and hair-trigger soldier, North Korea seems to be doing everything it can to make it look far worse. While I'm usually skeptical of conspiracy theories, it's as if they want us to believe that this entire incident was staged by the North Korean government. The following facts make the whole thing stink:

  • Previous incursions into restricted areas were merely warned away without shots being fired.

  • North Korea is stonewalling any investigation by outside parties.

  • The account of the incident provided by North Korea is fishy.

    • If the explanation provided by North Korea were correct, then a 53-year old woman would have had to walked 3.3 kilometers, or 2 miles, on sand within 30 minutes, which doesn't sound terribly realistic.
    • Witnesses claim they heard gunshots 30 minutes after when North Korea claims the incident happened.
    • Witnesses also claim that they heard only two gunshots, despite the claim by North Korea that a warning shot was fired before the two lethal shots.
  • North Korea blames South Korea for the incident with no explanation. A North Korean kills an unarmed South Korean and somehow it's the fault of South Korea? How is this supposed to work?

What's going on here? What is North Korea aiming for? What is it they want that would outstrip their desperate need for the large amount of hard currency they earn from the tourist resort? As a non-member of all the governments involved, I feel no compunction about indulging in fanciful speculations:

  • Somehow all the facts are according to North Korea's claims, and the witnesses are just remembering incorrectly. North Korea is just being its usual obstinate self.

  • North Korea did a half-assed job of investigating what happened, and they don't want to get embarrassed by outside investigations showing how incompetent they are.

  • North Korea is trying to do a minor coverup, perhaps trying to protect the responsible solder who might happen to be the son of an important Party member, to hide the fact that he was drunk, or to dodge responsibility for the lack of discipline and sloppy maintenance of the resort boundaries.

  • North Korea is using this unfortunate incident as a chance to break off, or at least dampen, diplomatic relations with South Korea.

  • The tourist was part of an espionage operation by South Korea and was killed when discovered.

  • An internal power play is occurring using this incident as an opportunity, resulting in miscommunications and a sloppy investigation. Or perhaps false information is being deliberately fed to the higher ups in the North Korean government to weaken their power.

  • This was a deliberate act of cold-blooded murder by North Korea for political gain. Perhaps the guarding soldier had standing orders to kill any tourists straying into a restricted area at the earliest opportunity, so it could have been anyone that was shot.

What could be the truth? I have no idea. I just hope that North Korea doesn't get away with it without any negative consequences.

Dealing with the Kumgang Resort

One of the worries that I had about the shooting at the Kumgang Resort last Friday was that the governments involved might want to sweep the incident under the rug and handle it like an unfortunate accident. The South Korean government calling the incident an "accident" in a press briefing didn't help assuage my fears. So when I heard from SBS News that the South Korean government wants a thorough investigation, it helped lift a little of my worries.

Unfortunately, it sounds like the incident may have more to it than just a woman straying into a restricted area and being killed by a hair-trigger North Korean soldier. This is very bad all by itself, but there are signs that the whole thing is much worse. One little bad sign is that the North Koreans and the resort management indeed screwed up in that they did not fence off the restricted area completely and neglected to put up any warning signs.

Much worse is that the official explanation of what happened provided by the North Koreans looks fishy. If they are to be believed, then the victim must have traversed 3.3 kilometers, or 2 miles, in 20 minutes. While it's possible a 53-year old housewife could have jogged the distance in the claimed amount of time, it doesn't sound realistic, especially when she was just "going out for a walk". I just hope it's a misunderstanding or at most a misguided attempt to coverup a minor screwup by the North Koreans, instead of something much more major. The incident as it's publicly known is already bad enough.