Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Suspicious Death in Mia-dong

Nobody likes a peddler of implausible rumor, a weaver or believer of conspiracy theories, a conceiver of the inconceivable, a... anyway, suffice it to say that I hope I have built a sufficient reserve of goodwill within the North Korean studies community to be able to point out that this is a bit suspicious.

For your information, the English translation team at Yonhap saw fit to make it look like this, but, not least since they took leave of an oddly graphic description of the death itself in the process, here is my translation of the Korean original;
The mother of the general secretary of a conservative organization which sends leaflets into North Korea has been murdered. In the light of this, an upcoming leaflet release event has been cancelled.

According to Seoul police, "At approximately 3:20PM on the afternoon of the 10th in Seoul, Gangbuk-gu, Mia-dong, a neighborhood shop owner found Mrs. Han (75) dead in her store and called 119 to report it." Mrs. Han was the mother of Mr. Chu (52), the general secretary of one of three leafleting organizations.

Rescue workers report that Mrs. Han collapsed against a wall after receiving a blow to the head, smearing blood on the wall. Someone connected with the police said, "It is being treated as homicide so an investigation is underway, but I can say that nothing had been stolen so it doesn't appear to have been a robbery."

Meanwhile, according to the general manager of the conservative organization itself, "The wind was looking good, so we were intending to hold a leaflet launch on the morning of the 12th at 10AM, but it has been cancelled. This is not just a delay of a few days, we will wait for the official investigation (into whether or not it was a terrorist attack) results to be announced."

The conservative organization has, however, affirmed that it will conduct the leaflet launch in due course.

The police are testing fingerprints and hair found at the scene to try and establish what really happened to Mrs. Han.
It is not for me to shout from the rooftops that Mrs. Han was murdered by North Korea or its South Korean proxies, let that be clear. I don't know who did it, obviously, any better than you do. However, it is odd and it does come at a time when North Korea (via KCNA, 2/27/11) is clearly pretty uncomfortable with outside propaganda efforts against it;
If the psychological warfare activities were to continue, decisive action on the basis of self-defense would be taken, including a direct attack on Imjingak and other sources of anti-Republic psychological plotting activities.
If North Korea's doing, this murder would be, I'm afraid, a direct attack on Imjingak, and as plausibly deniable warnings to such organizations go, hitting a member of the family of an outlier seems like a smart choice (Mr. Chu's organization is of the shoutier, more militant sort, or so my leafleting friends assure me, and so its leader's mother would have been suitable for this role).

On the other hand, of course, plenty of murders occur in South Korea annually even without the shadowy presence of North Korea's ideological hand, and this could have simply been one of them.

Nonetheless, if it were to appear likely that North Korea "did it", it would raise some interesting questions about the efficacy of Seoul's current policy of very public deterrence and the ability of the Lee administration to carry that policy through to its logical conclusion.

Since the Cheonan, and in particular since Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea has set out its public stall very firmly; if you attack us, we will retaliate hard. There is even a four-star general at the top of the Ministry of National Defense.

And it all sounds fair enough, really; after all, more than 50 South Koreans have been murdered by North Korea in the last year, and that would not be acceptable for any nation.

But, problematically, it is a good deal harder in practice to state clearly where the red lines for retaliation actually are; I mean, if it comes to pass that this murder was done on the say-so of North Korea, what does the South then do?

Obviously, starting a war on the basis of the murder of the mother of the leader of one of the more right-of-center NGO groups out there would be, in and of itself, exceedingly foolish. The days of Unit 684 have also, I presume, passed.

All of which would, then, tend to lead to a policy of not rocking the boat. And such a policy, given that it would be completely at odds with the official policy of deterrence and instant retaliation, would lead directly to a government cover-up.

And that, given that it would stand a high chance of leading to fissures in public and governmental opinion, would be ideal for North Korea. Furthermore, it would prove to Pyongyang yet again that South Korea is toothless in most cases to retaliate against its provocative behavior, and encourage more of the same.

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