Thirty seven Buddhist monks from South Korea have journeyed to North Korea, to partake in the observance of the millennium of the ‘Tripitaka Koreana, ‘the world’s most comprehensive and oldest intact version of Buddhist canon in Hanja script, with no known errors or errata in the 52,382,960 characters which are organized in over 1496 titles and 6568 volumes’, at a ceremony at the Pohyon Temple in the mountains near Pyongyang.
The arrival of South Korean monks in the North’s capitol is significant: one, a lifting of South Korea’s ban of allcivilian travel to the DPRK, other than for humanitarian purposes. Two, it comes immediately after the appointment of Yu Woo ik as Unification Minister. [Yu replaced Hyun In taek, known for his strong hard line towards the Kim Jong il government.] Although the North Korean leadership insist that the nomination is cosmetic, Yu’s new position might force the shut door of travel to the North of South Koreans.
On the other hand, the demonstrations against the construction of a South Korean naval base on the semiautonomous and self governing island of touristic and natural flora and fauna of Jeju, has aroused the barely sleeping serpent of anti Americanism, which festers like a sore tooth of US ROK relations since 1945. A court has ordered the suspension of the building of the port, but it has nonetheless continued. Squads of military and civilian police are on hand to halt demonstrations, rough up and arrest protesters.
Strategically a naval base on Jeju will better control sea lanes and position South Korea so that it can readily respond to irredentist claims to rock formations by Japan or China that the ROK also claims ownership. Furthermore, geophysical data suggest huge gas reserves which the three countries covert. Militarily speaking, the projection of South Korean naval power in the surrounding waters impinges on the claims of China and Japan as an infringement on what they consider their ‘mare nostrum’. The new port will welcome US ships and nuclear powered vessels, which will certainly send danger signals to a China intent on its own naval expansion in the region.
Finally the US is fulfilling its promise of us$900.000 in aid to ‘flood hit’ North Korea, through NGOs. America’s supplies have no food for the starving North Koreans; they consist of emergency relief items such as blankets, soap, and hygiene kits. A US representative spoke of ‘concern about the well being of North Korean people, and this humanitarian assistance is not linked to any political or security issues’. Of course the absence of food shows that politics are in play. The Obama administration harbours a strongly felt feeling that food would be funneled to North Korea’s armed forces, in spite of the contrary of past food distribution, say, by Mercy Corp. or Swiss NGOs.