S. Korea Beams Pop to North, Seeks Ship Sanctions

South Korea Beams Radio Program to North
The four-hour radio show included a speech by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, outlining his government's response to the March 26 sinking of a warship. Photographer: Lee Jae-Won/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea broadcast a pop song extolling freedom of choice and a warning on the dangers of overeating into North Korea, ending a six-year moratorium on propaganda in retaliation for the sinking of a warship.

The four-hour radio program yesterday evening included a speech by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak outlining his government’s response to the March 26 sinking, which an international panel concluded was caused by a North Korean torpedo. The South, which lost 46 sailors in the attack, will seek more United Nations Security Council sanctions, halt most trade, and bar North Korean vessels from its waters.

“We have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again,” Lee said yesterday. “Now, things are different.”

Lee’s cutting of ties will increase North Korea’s economic dependency on China, which has yet to accept the panel’s findings and yesterday urged all sides to remain “coolheaded.” Kim Jong Il’s regime said it will shell South Korean positions that use loudspeakers for “psychological warfare,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

South Korea’s won plunged to a 10-month low today as the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reported that Kim ordered his military to prepare for combat, citing a defector group. The benchmark Kospi index sank as much as 3.5 percent.

‘All-Out War’

North Korea last week threatened “all-out war” for any punitive action taken against its regime.

Lee’s actions mark “the end of an era of reconciliation and the beginning of a new Cold War,” said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean studies in Seoul. “China will resist joining international condemnation of North Korea. It doesn’t need to be seen as bending to U.S. pressure.”

The propaganda broadcast made on FM radio began at 6 p.m. local time yesterday when a woman anchor announced what she called the “voice of freedom.” North Korean listeners were regaled with a song by a South Korean girl band, Four Minute.

In the tune, “Huh,” the band sings: “When I say I want to appear on TV, when I say I want to become prettier, everybody says I can’t do it. Baby, you’re kidding me? I do as I please.”

Food Propaganda

The broadcast then explained how South Koreans no longer experience hunger, and are more worried about getting fat.

“Always remember, we want to share our prosperity with you,” the anchor said, accusing North Korean officials of enriching themselves while the people go hungry.

The UN World Food Program said this month its aid to North Korea will run out by the end of next month.

Kim’s regime, which has been relying on handouts since the mid-1990s, is suffering from worsening shortages after a botched currency revaluation late last year. Academics including Rudiger Frank, professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna, said the reform was an attempt to roll back an experiment with free markets that had loosened the state’s control over jobs, food and patronage.

While the U.S., Japan and other allies of South Korea lined up in support of Lee, China said it was considering the results of the investigation. All sides should “exercise restraint,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in Beijing yesterday.

In Denial

“No responsible country in the international community will be able to deny the fact that the Cheonan was sunk by North Korea,” Lee said, without naming China.

North Korea’s KCNA has denied the charge, accusing “the traitor” Lee of a smear campaign “written by the master,” referring to the U.S.

The increased tension on the Korean peninsula comes as China plays host to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and dozens of other American officials for the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

South Korea plans to hold joint anti-submarine exercises with the U.S. off its west coast, Defense Minister Kim Tae Young said. That would put U.S. warships in the Yellow Sea, next to China’s eastern seaboard.

Sanctions Bite

UN sanctions imposed on North Korea after its second nuclear test in May 2009 caused the North’s international commerce to shrink 9.7 percent last year, according to the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. Stripping out South Korea’s one-third share, China accounted for 78.5 percent of North Korea’s commerce, the agency said. North Korea, whose leader Kim visited China earlier this month, doesn’t release trade data.

In addition to being North Korea’s main source of support, China is also host of multilateral talks on the nuclear weapons program. The forum includes Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. North Korea reiterated its right to develop nuclear weapons to protect it from U.S. aggression, KCNA reported yesterday.

The March attack was the deadliest blamed on Kim’s regime since 115 people were killed in the 1987 explosion of a South Korean airliner. Other incidents include attempts in 1968 and 1983 to assassinate South Korean presidents.

“Korea is one theater where the two sides in what I call ‘Cold War II’ will interact,” said Frank. “With China being so big and rising, confrontation with the USA seems inevitable. The only hope we can have is that this confrontation does not develop into a hot war.”

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