Those of you who are back in the states might have heard of the sinking of the Cheonan. This large ship went down near the North Korean border. Some have raised the possiblity of naval mines, perhaps a large Soviet-made mine which went adrift. Sailing around North Korea, or indeed venturing around the DMZ on land, is a risky business, given the mines. At the truce village of P’anmunjŏm, there is a one-hole golf course which used to have land mines nearby. In case your ball landed in the rough, you were advised just to leave it and not try to retrieve it. Until the mines were removed, it was advertised as the world’s most dangerous golf course.
As for the Cheonan, there are some 46 sailors still unaccounted for. A diver lost his life today searching for the 46 lost sailors. 58 sailors have been rescued so far. There is a small hope that the remaining 46 might be in airtight areas of the ship. However, attempts to rescue them have proved futile, given the strong currents in the area.
Some lawmakers have cautiously raised the question of North Korean torpedoes, something that they are exploring. For the moment, the South Korean government is being especially cautious, given that they are fully aware of what havoc intemperate words can wreak.
As you may know, North Korea has again fallen on hard times. The North Korean won was revalued, wiping out the savings of many North Koreans and making everything more expensive. Following the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994, North Korea entered a period of severe famine where maybe two or three million people died from starvation. At the same time as this was going on, Kim Jong-il was spending some $900 million to renovate Kŭmsusan Memorial Palace, the last home of Kim Il-sung, as his final resting place as well as ensuring that his corpse would be preserved in perpetuity á la V.I. Lenin or Chairman Mao.
South Korea has had its own brushes with the North since the Korean War. As you should know, the war never ended. No peace treaties were signed, only an armistice, something which North Korea has broken time and again. North Korean agents assisinated the wife of late President Park, eighteen South Korean government ministers who were visiting Burma, shot down a Korean Air jetliner, and much more. Hopefully, they weren’t involved in this. But with the country faltering economically and spectre of famine appearing in North Korea again, this might be just the sort of thing that the widaehan yongdoja or Great Leader needs to boost his sagging fortunes.
North Korea is a highly tenacious state. They have survived against all odds. Indeed, in just about any other country, Kim Jong-il would have been thrown out of power long ago. Yet, he still remains. His health is fading and some experts have opined that he has three years or less to live.