Tag Archives: DPRK

We Hacked North Korea With Balloons and USB Drives

An airborne challenge to Kim Jong Un’s information monopoly
Former North Korean defectors release balloons containing one-dollar banknotes, radios, CDs and leaflets denouncing the North Korean regime near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, on January 15. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

PAJU, South Korea — At the base of a mountain almost two miles from the North Korean border, the giant helium balloons slowly float upward, borne by a stiff, cold wind. These are not balloons in the conventional sense—the transparent, cylindrical tubes covered in colorful Korean script are more than 20 feet in length and each carries three large bundles wrapped in plastic. The characters painted on one of the balloons reads, “The regime must fall.”

The launch site is at the confluence of the Imjin and Han Rivers, which form the border with North Korea. From here, it’s possible to see the Potemkin village constructed on the shores across the river. The picturesque agrarian hamlet is really just a series of uninhabited sham structures, which contrast sharply with the bustle and industry of the South Korean side. Using binoculars we can see people “walking” back and forth and pretending to till the land despite below-freezing temperatures.We’re here to hack the North Korean government’s monopoly of information above the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula. The North Korean dictatorship continues to be one of the most totalitarian regimes on the planet. While other regimes oppress their dissidents and censor the Internet, North Korea has no dissidents and no connection to the outside world. It has no Internet. The Kim family rules with absolute authority, arbitrarily imprisoning or executing anyone who stands in their way. The regime goes even further; not only is the offender imprisoned, but entire generations of his family are also sent to the gulags. The embargo of information into and out of the country has forced human rights groups to be creative in their methods of reaching North Korean citizens.

The balloons rise and drift toward the border dividing democratic South Korea and Kim Jong Un’s totalitarian regime in the north. Each balloon carries a bundle containing DVDs, USBs, transistor radios, and tens of thousands of leaflets printed with information about the world outside North Korea. Once the balloons travel far enough north, a small timer will break open the sturdy plastic bags and shower the contents of the packages over the countryside. The text printed on the leaflets is changed from launch to launch; the leaflets we are using today contain a cartoon depicting Kim Jong Un’s execution of his uncle as well as pro-democracy and human rights literature.

In preparation for Wednesday’s launch, a group of men and women, most defectors themselves, put together the precious cargo the balloons carry. This group is part of an organization called Fighters for a Free North Korea, and their leader is Park Sang Hak, a defector and son of a former North Korean spy who escaped 15 years ago by swimming across the river. Park has since dedicated his life to fighting for freedom in his homeland. That dedication has earned him awards (he received the Human Rights Foundation’s Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent last year) as well as attempts on his life.

In 2011, a North Korean assassin traveled to Seoul and tried to kill Park with a poison needle hidden inside a pen. The South Korean National Intelligence Service found out about the plan to murder Park, whom the Pyongyang regime has designated “Enemy Zero,” and tipped him off before he went to meet the would-be killer.

Park Sang Hak, a North Korean defector and chairman of Fighters for a Free North Korea, releases a helium balloon filled with anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets near the border with North Korea, in 2008. (Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak)

Undaunted, Park continued his efforts to offer support to the countrymen he had left behind. He realized that although the government tightly controlled everything that came into the country on the ground, the sky remained free. Park decided this would be his way of smuggling his message across the border.

This is how we found ourselves at a mountaintop an hour and a half outside of Seoul in 15-degree-Fahrenheit weather. We had been preparing for weeks in secret in order to stay off the South Korean government’s radar, after our previous launch attempt was thwarted by South Korean police forces.

In June of last year, at a different border site, word got out about the effort, which was to be the first time that a foreign NGO had collaborated directly in such an activity. Two days before the anticipated launch date, the North Korean government issued a warning through its propaganda outlet, threatening, “[I]f you so much as haunt [the launch site] with your presence and act as human shields for refugees who have already been sentenced to death, we will kill you.”

We chose to ignore this inflammatory rhetoric, which is typical of the regime, and pressed on. The morning of the launch, however, the North Korean government issued a second warning, this time from the Command of the Korean People’s Army, saying the launch “reminds one of a puppy knowing no fear of a tiger.” This threat was taken so seriously by the South Korean government that its security forces mobilized to stop us.

On the day of the launch, 300 uniformed South Korean policemen swarmed the site, preventing us from achieving our goal. Park attempted to drive to another launch site, but he was stopped and taken to a nearby police station, where he was detained for six hours and then released. The episode underlined how many South Koreans regard the human rights struggle in the North as merely a distraction and an annoyance.

So what do these balloons carry that is dangerous enough to the North Korean government to warrant an attempted assassination and multiple public death threats to an international NGO? All of the goods carried by the balloons are illegal inside North Korea, but the regime consistently names one item in their threats to Park and his group: the pro-democracy leaflets.

The North Korean government dreads subversive information. For decades, the regime has controlled all information entering the country. While the government still has a monopoly over information dissemination within North Korea, cracks are beginning to show. Many North Koreans now have access to smuggled DVDs and USBs loaded with videos. They are seeing the world outside the North, and it doesn’t match up to the dictatorship’s lies and propaganda. Shows such as Desperate Housewives and The Mentalist, and films like Bad Boys, all of which defectors tell us are very popular in the North, provide a wildly different alternative to their daily lives.

Slowly, piercing the information blockade is helping to expose the fallibility of the North Korean state. Kim Jong Un’s government, just like the governments of his father and grandfather before him, is engineered to make North Korean citizens dependent on the state for everything. However, the famine of the 1990s, in which over a million North Koreans starved to death, forced people to depend less on the state for survival. The black market, fueled by smuggling, began to gain momentum.

Smuggling is the only way to bring information and technology to the North Korean people, and it is punishable by death. DVDs, USBs, and even laptops are making their way over the Chinese border into the hands of North Koreans, helped along by NGOs based in South Korea. Some groups engage directly in smuggling activities to provide information and equipment, others use short- and medium-wave radio broadcasts, and Park Sang Hak uses balloons and other creative methods of sending help over the border.

South Koreans and North Korean defectors hold a banner that reads, “Pyongyang citizens living in the South and the North, Let’s unite, break Kim Jong Un’s three generations hereditary regime and move a date up for recovery of Pyongyang.” (Reuters/Lee Jae-Won)

These groups, however, are in the midst of a crisis. Finding support, especially for the more aggressive methods, is difficult within South Korea, as South Koreans fear antagonizing their distant relatives in the North. Until this year, the U.S. government provided support for these groups through the National Endowment for Democracy and the State Department’s DRL programs. The majority of this funding however, has been cut in the last year. A remarkable opportunity now exists, given the funding gap, to build peer-to-peer networks between Korean defectors and worldwide allies willing to stand against despotism. Radio transmission is especially costly, and one group we visited in Seoul won’t be able to afford to produce its programming after March of this year.

These groups struggle in silence as the international press creates a media circus around Dennis Rodman and his “friendship” with Kim Jong Un. His antics feed into the popular perception of the regime as a bizarre place where bad things happen as opposed to one of the world’s cruelest tyrannies, being challenged by a handful of civil society organizations with combined annual budgets totaling no more than $1 million. And the North, with its nuclear hardware, concentration camps, and totalitarian control over its people, is being challenged with freedom of expression and the power of ideas. In the end, we believe ideas will win.

Will Iran Really Start a War?

History teaches that the saber rattling of lunatic regimes should be taken seriously.

A Excellent piece..

For much of October 1950, Chinese communists let it be known that they would invade the Korean peninsula should the Americans keep up their victorious march northward to the Yalu River. Gen. MacArthur, the American theater commander, in response assured his superiors that these near constant threats were absurd. As he pointed out to a worried President Truman in a meeting on Wake Island on October 15, 1950, the Americans had clear conventional and nuclear air superiority, which, along with far more armor and artillery, would lead to a vast slaughter of the vulnerable Chinese Army.

Few political observers took seriously the serial threats of Mao Zedong, who was facing massive rebuilding in war-torn China and still worried about the permanence of his recently victorious communist government. And yet by mid-November the first brigades of some 500,000 “volunteers” poured into North Korea and sent American forces reeling in what would prove to be the longest retreat in U.S. military history—an attack completely unanticipated by all American and European intelligence agencies.

During the late summer of 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat threatened to invade the Israeli-held Sinai peninsula, after boasting earlier that he was prepared to lose a million Egyptians, if need be, in the attempt. How crazy was that—given the Egyptians had recently kicked out their major arms supplier, the Soviet Union, and suddenly had neither a nuclear umbrella to hide under nor a steady supplier of key replacement military parts? In addition, the humiliation of the recent 1967 Six-Day War had taught the Arabs just how foolish it was to start a war with a militarily superior Israel. And there was no assurance that hated rival Syria would ever coordinate with Egypt to ensure a two-theater war against Israel. Nonetheless, the Egyptians invaded on October 6, 1973—to the shock of Israel, the United States, and the United Nations.

What are we to make of Iran’s serial, but seemingly empty, threats of war?

For much of late 1981 and early 1982, the Argentine military junta—facing unprecedented domestic criticism and economic crisis—let it be known that it might annex the “Malvinas” or British Falkland Islands, convinced that a supposedly corrupt Britain would do nothing, and an even more corrupt U.S. would simply accept the verdict of the battlefield. Yet few believed Gen. Galtieri’s threats, especially given the vast imbalance of power between Britain and Argentina—until Argentina did the unimaginable and foolishly invaded the islands in early April 1982.

Through the summer of 1990 Saddam Hussein had warned foreign diplomats, the U.S. ambassador, and much of the Arab world that he might invade and annex Kuwait (Iraq’s “19th Province”)—alleging that his rich neighbor had not, as supposedly promised, forgiven Iraq’s vast debt after the war with Iran, and was cheating on agreements over oil production. Almost no one believed that Iraq, wasted by a near-decade long war with Iran, would be so foolish as to start another one with the Sunni, Arab-run Kuwait. But Saddam did just that and gobbled up Kuwait in a matter of days—convinced that the Arab world, the UN, and the U.S. would do little in retaliation.

The common theme of these modern examples of unforeseen preemptive wars is clear enough: empty, even foolhardy threats of war are not always so empty. The Korean War, the Yom Kippur War, the Falklands War, and the First Gulf War all share a variety of commonalities that are relevant to the ongoing tension with Iran—aside from the fact that these invasions eventually proved costly for the aggressors.

First lesson: fear makes all dictators unpredictable. What may seem to outsiders as a terrible choice may be merely a bad choice to a paranoid dictator, set against the far worse alternative of doing nothing and thereby losing power altogether. Mao Zedong’s communist revolution had only recently won over China, and he was convinced that at any moment American-backed Chinese forces from Formosa would invade the mainland and destroy his fragile hold on power—especially as UN forces routed North Korean client communists and neared the Manchurian border. The United States had no plans to go into Manchuria to overthrow Mao, but he was nonetheless convinced that a preemptive war might be his only insurance that they would not. In that context, war in Korea was not the worse of all possible choices for Mao.

Fear makes all dictators unpredictable.

By 1972, Anwar Sadat was facing an economic disaster in Egypt. Worse still, he was under terrible pressure from the Arab world after the humiliating defeat of 1967. He also had just rid his country of the Soviet advisors who had both armed Egypt and helped to prop up his ruined economy. He needed to do something dramatic to win back public opinion and to prove that Egypt could make needed reforms and free itself from the Soviet Union. Sadat also needed to prove that he really was as magnetic as the late Nasser. Again, most thought Sadat had plenty of choices other than invasion; Sadat, however, thought he had few or none.

Public furor over the dirty war in Argentina and the crumbling economy were beginning to doom the military junta in Buenos Aires, as protests and open defiance were now commonplace occurrences for the first time in a decade. General Galtieri concluded that something desperate was needed to unite the country and turn public attention away from the dismal economy and growing reports of massive executions in Argentina’s recent ‘dirty war.’ For Galtieri, reclaiming the Malvinas seemed as smart a move as it did stupid to most others.

By 1990, Iraq was broke. A devastating eight-year war with Iran had cost a half-trillion dollars and 500,000 casualties—with almost nothing gained in return. Civil unrest was on the rise. Saddam Hussein—like Mao, General Galtieri, and Anwar Sadat—was once again looking for enemies to win back public opinion. And Kuwait possessed neither the manpower nor armaments of Iran. For Saddam, a short war could win back what a long war had recently lost.

These ostensibly stupid invasions have another shared feature—the attackers felt there was nothing immediately stopping their aggression. The Chinese communists were not convinced that the Americans were fully committed to Korea. They had studied carefully the earlier astounding North Korean successes against the Americans, at least from June to the Incheon landings of September that only recently had turned around the war. But even then, Gen. MacArthur had bragged that he would get most Americans home by Christmas. Mao felt the Americans would put up little resistance and simply flee southward and then home.

Is Iran foolhardy enough to attack the U.S. Navy?

By 1973, Israel was suffering from the “victory disease.” It chose to forego a preemptive strike on the eve of the Egyptian invasion, and did not fully mobilize its reserves until the war was raging. During the Nixon administration, a rift had grown with Israel over its supposed intransigence about ceding back the spoils of 1967, a source of general unrest that the Soviets were capitalizing on with their Arab clients. Moreover, Sadat’s new stockpile of Soviet anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles had convinced him that the vaunted Israeli air forces were suddenly vulnerable—and he was proved right on that count for the first few days of the war. In short, Sadat believed, wrongly as it later turned out, that the Israel of 1973 was not the same Israel of 1967.

Why would Argentina conclude that it could get away with attacking the maritime island power of Britain? In the trivial sense, some backbenchers in Britain’s Parliament had begun talking about negotiating over the “Malvinas,” while the British government, as a goodwill gesture, had redeployed a tiny minesweeper from the Falklands. More importantly, the Argentines were convinced that the new British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, did not have the proverbial cojones to fight a distant war against macho generals in Argentina. All that sounds as crazy now as it was seen to be profound in 1982.

In the summer of 1990, the American Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, offhandedly remarked to Saddam Hussein that Americans did not have an interest in the border disputes of Arab nations. She thought that was an obvious, matter-of-fact statement of the reality that the United States was too busy to adjudicate a few miles here and there of murky post-colonial Arab borders. But to Saddam, it signaled a green light that he could go into Kuwait without the retaliation of U.S. bombs. And he was further convinced that his battle-hardened Iran-Iraq War veterans would make mincemeat of the soft soldiers of the rich and pampered Gulf sheikdoms.

There was a final consideration: none of these aggressors believed that if they were to lose, Western powers would invade and remove them, or use their overwhelming nuclear and conventional forces to destroy their regimes. They were right on that count too: Mao eventually lost over a million Chinese, but was never bombed by the U.S. air force. The United States called off Israel’s pincer movement into Egypt and its planned destruction of the trapped Egyptian Third Army. Britain never sent missiles into Buenos Aires, and the UN coalition pushed Saddam out of Kuwait, but not out of power.

Does all this mean that Iran may be foolhardy enough to attack the U.S. Navy or its weak Arab allies—given its possible assessment that either there would be no American response, or at least not enough to endanger the survival of its regime? The new embargo may, after all, strangle its economy and rising domestic unrest might soon put an end to the regime. Meanwhile, provoking Persian Gulf tensions could make Iranian oil both expensive and essential. And does the theocracy interpret the Obama administration’s exit from Iraq, its current negotiations with the Taliban, and its failed serial efforts at reset diplomacy with Tehran as a sort of weakness that might presage a tepid U.S. response?

An Iranian attack on a U.S. vessel would be an insane act that would ensure that Iran paid a heavy price for its folly—or so we think. But to Iran, there are other considerations, with ample historical precedent, that make what we consider to be unthinkable perhaps not all that unthinkable at all.

by Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a classicist and an expert on the history of war. A regular contributor to National Review Online and many other national and international publications, he has written or edited twenty books, including the New York Times best seller Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power. His book The End of Sparta will appear in 2011. He was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Bush in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008.

Time to undo the Kim family regime

I recently wrote about regime change for the DPRK a few weeks ago, The idea has alot of merit and should be supported so it gains traction.

With 28-year-old Kim Jong Eun propped up to handle Pyongyang’s succession crisis, three facts about North Korea are salient. Kim Jong Il, who died December 17, like his father was a tyrant whose damage makes Qaddafi seem a choirboy. After six decades of peaceful competition with the capitalist South, the socialist North’s per capita GDP is 5 percent of South Korea’s. Years of futile disarmament talks with North Korea compare with the worst peace-effort fiascoes of League of Nations days.

Photo of Kim Jong EunGeorge W. Bush’s comment to Bob Woodward, “I loathe Kim Jong Il,” was a fitter summation of this cruel nonentity than the full-page world-historical pomposity of the New York Times’s obituary. Kim Jong Il made but two offerings to his people: poverty and nuclear weapons. Now, in rituals the world takes too seriously, his son Kim Jong Eun gathers titles in Pyongyang’s totalitarian edifice as a house may add gargoyles, but it means little. Half a dozen Communist regimes in Europe looked stable until suddenly gone.

“No good options exist,” the pundits always say of North Korea. “It’s the six‑party talks or another Korean War,” they declare. Give Seoul’s “sunshine policy” toward Pyongyang more time to mellow the Kim family regime. Results justified none of these hopes in 17 years’ arguing over the North’s nuclear program. There is no way to “address North Korea’s security concerns” when Pyongyang simply wants the United States to leave so it may grab the South.

Why did the Obama administration last month express hope for a “stable transition” in Pyongyang? John Bolton correctly wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “It is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Washington to see [Kim Jong Il’s] death only as a risk, rather than an opportunity.”

Fortunately, a good option does exist that would terminate the problem of nukes on the Korea peninsula. Talks would switch from Pyongyang’s “intentions” and weapons to the shape of a reunified Korea. The basis would be Pyongyang’s longstanding suggestion of a Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo and Seoul’s similar idea of a Korean National Community.

Restoring the unity of a split country raises transforming possibilities; in this case, it can be “regime change” acceptable to nearly all parties. For 1,269 years there was one Korean state; for six decades there have been two. The reward for 28-year-old Kim Jong Eun would be respect from all Korea and a personal achievement absent in the life of his father and grandfather. Educated in Switzerland, with some knowledge of the West, he is young enough to glimpse redemption from his family’s horrible record by permitting peaceful reunification for the Korean people.

Hawks and doves have a rare opportunity to unite in this project. Reunification of Korea is a positive goal and susceptible to subtle negotiation. Hawks would see the Pyongyang regime swallowed into a new Korea government. Doves would see nukes gone from the Korea peninsula. A One Korea government, dominated by southerners, would renounce nuclear weapons. When did an American president or secretary of state last give a speech pushing the reunification of Korea? Obama should deliver one within weeks.

The Korean War (1950-53) stemmed from a struggle over reunification. The war was Kim Il Sung’s attempt to reunify Korea by force. The armistice of 1953 left unsolved this crucial issue of reunification and began the unfolding spectacle of freedom’s success and tyranny’s failure.

World War II and its aftermath were years of fluidity in international relations during which maps were redrawn almost by the week. The Soviet Union and the United States, mopping up against Japan, agreed on slicing Korea into two at the 38th parallel after a late night map examination by State Department officer Dean Rusk in August 1945. Kim Il Sung sought international Communist support for an attack on the South to end the murky maneuvers between his Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (proclaimed in September 1948) and Syngman Rhee’s Republic of Korea (proclaimed in August 1948), each government claiming to represent the whole nation.

During 1948‑49, on the ground in southern Korea, Washington signaled declining commitment to Korea’s unity and security as Rhee’s fledgling government dealt with Communist rebellions that Stalin was supporting.

Everett Drumright, who set up the U.S. mission to the Rhee government, conveyed the atmosphere of insouciance about the threat of Kim Il Sung: “In 1948 only two divisions of troops were left in Korea,” he said in an interview. “But, over our objections at the embassy, they were recalled in the middle of 1949.” The diplomat described Rhee’s reaction to Truman’s policy: “[He was] extraordinarily bitter about the .  .  . evacuation and what he saw as a lack of help by the U.S. at this critical juncture.” Drumright summed up sadly, “We didn’t know what was going on in Washington.”

At the end of 1949, Kim lacked Moscow’s and Beijing’s support to grab the South. But in January 1950, Washington disastrously signaled its limited strategic interest in Korea in remarks by Secretary of State Dean Acheson. In March, Stalin told Kim he would support an armed reunification if Mao could be brought on board.

Mao was cautious, but assurances from Stalin (of Soviet air support) and from Kim (that Washington would not jump in and that the South would rise up to embrace socialism) persuaded him to agree and prepare for war.

When North Korea attacked in June 1950, Truman reversed himself and sent substantial forces from Japan into Korea. Mao, already prepared for intervention, sent more than 200,000 troops when the U.S. and South Korean armies pushed back the North’s forces and reached the Chinese border.

China suffered 152,000 dead and 383,000 badly wounded in the war. Urgent home reconstruction tasks of Mao’s brand-new regime were also disrupted. A door slammed closed against Mao’s quest for the China seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. Incorporation of Taiwan into the PRC was indefinitely postponed. Beijing did not recover from the class‑struggle mentality developed during the “anti-imperialist” Korean War until the death of Mao in 1976.

The Korean people lost even more in the war and later from the spiritual deprivation of division and the intensifying human tragedy within failed North Korea. As a result of the role of Stalin and Mao (backing Kim) and of Washington’s failure to deter Kim, reunification was put out of reach for generations.

U.S. officials often declare the Kim dynasty inscrutable. In 2006, Nicholas Burns, then number three at the State Department, said that without a U.S. embassy in North Korea “it is hard to know what Pyongyang wants.” Not really. Kim Jong Il wanted exactly what his father sought in June 1950: a reunified Korea under Communist leadership, by military means if necessary and possible.

You would never know this from Jimmy Carter’s prattling about North Korea’s “seeking attention” and “respect” with its nuclear program. If all Pyongyang wanted was to be secure as a bug in its Stalinist rug, it would not have attacked South Korea in 1950, attempted assassinations of two South Korean presidents, and continued to attack the South—torpedoing the naval vessel Cheonan and shelling Yeonpyeong Island—even into the Obama years.

Our best tribute to the bravery of U.S., South Korean, and other soldiers 60 years ago, and our most appropriate response to the sudden political fluidity in Pyongyang, would be the reunification of Korea under democracy. It would be a smoke-and-mirrors process of negotiation that offered benefit to all parties—until the last stage.

A quiet bargain between the United States and China is the key. Beijing accepts the end of Stalinism in North Korea. Washington and its allies offer Beijing a reunified Korea free of U.S. troops and nuclear weapons. Given Pyongyang’s virulence toward Seoul last week, no chance exists for the two Korean states to take the first step. Obama and Hu Jintao must jointly urge the reunification process.

Beijing has long preferred the devil it knows (a Stalinist ally in Pyongyang) to an unknown devil (a unified Korea). But a threshold was reached in 2006 when Beijing said it was “brazen” of North Korea to perform a nuclear test; leading Korea specialists in China later declared past negotiations with Pyongyang “a failure.” Pyongyang’s defiance of Beijing, said Professor Zhang Liangui of the Central Communist Party School, is “the worst setback for Chinese foreign policy in the history of the PRC.” Yan Xuetong of Qinghua University compared the breach between North Korea and China to the Sino‑Soviet split of the 1960s. “The old relationship has gone to hell,” he declared. “It’s a big slap to China.”

This was strong medicine. These specialists did not speak out without a green light from a senior figure. One must be restrained in hoping for a better Korea policy from a government headed by Hu Jintao, who has praised both the North Korean and Cuban regimes, but Beijing’s tie with Pyongyang seems atavistic for a modernizing China. An adviser to Hu Jintao at People’s University told me over dinner in Beijing in November that Hu has not really praised North Korea; he just favors “the stability” of the present situation. But younger Chinese Communists no longer want China to be known for propping up Asia’s most repressive and unsuccessful regime.

It is China, after all, not the United States, that has just two modest rivers between it and Korea; China that would feel the consequences of nuclear explosions on the Korean Peninsula. “It was a stupid policy for China to view North Korea’s nuclear weapons as potential leverage against the United States,” said Professor Zhang. “Instead the nuclear weapons will be mainly aimed at China.” Quite possibly.

Reunification would be seen as a process offering open‑ended paths to One Korea. North Korea would cherish an initial hope of major input into reunification that would be dashed by the huge gap in muscle and prosperity between South and North. Seoul’s failed “sunshine policy” would suddenly come into its own as the totalitarian edifice in Pyongyang cracked and compromises, deals, defections, realignments of all kinds became possible. Reunification would end up being regime change cast in a new dress. The system entrenched in Pyongyang could never act thus, but an impulsive 28-year-old offered a role in a new One Korea government just might.

Japan would help finance post‑reunification Korea—along with the U.N., World Bank, and perhaps the IMF—in return for the alleviation of a major security concern. A Korea deal could well be the key to preventing a downward spiral in Japan‑China relations and the disaster of Japan making its own nuclear weapons. Japan’s worry about China is tomorrow’s issue for Beijing; North Korea’s fate should be yesterday’s.

Let a unified non‑Communist Korea lean where it chooses. It is likely to be friendly to China, but not Beijing’s ally. Koreans would probably be warm to Washington and continue the present close economic and cultural relationship with U.S. society. Civil with Japan, the new Korea would also keep the door open to Russia as insurance against China.

Beijing did not want Kim Jong Eun to succeed his father, seeing another father-to-son succession as unsocialist and stifling. Now is a good time for the Chinese to roll the dice for reunification as they have zero investment in Kim Jong Eun. “One Korea” is no less of an imperative than “One China,” after all. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said last month: “China and North Korea have always maintained high-level visits, and we welcome North Korea’s leaders to visit China when convenient for both parties.” It is significant that he did not say “leader,” but “leaders.” Likewise, impersonal wording marked most of the Chinese statements after Kim Jong Il’s death and his son’s elevation to post after post: “The Chinese people have always stood by the Korean people.”

Some feel the democracies should just muddle along on North Korea since crumbling dictatorships are dangerous. Indeed, there is risk. The best argument against reunification is the danger of desperate acts in the North as the outcome of the process becomes clear. North Korea has a one-million-plus army whose loyalties could waver or fracture. There are probably chemical and biological weapons close to the DMZ that could fall into crazy hands. However, the international structure surrounding a step-by-step reunification process, orchestrated from the wings by Washington and Beijing, would modify the danger. Above all, a boss of North Korea in his twenties presents a huge opportunity for Obama to “transform” the Korea issue.

Overlooked by believers in everlasting “talks” is the immorality of sustaining North Korea. Condoleezza Rice once said the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest victory for human rights in the 20th century. How then to justify propping up North Korea? Each billion in aid—most is from China—prolongs Pyongyang’s repression and military braggadocio. The gap between South and North grows every year, making reunification more costly for Seoul. Surely the end of the Pyongyang regime would be a spectacular victory for human rights in Asia.

The writing is on the wall for the miserable Pyongyang regime, and the fence‑sitting should be over for China. No longer poor and a victim, China can put deeds behind its words about “peace and development” and “international community.” Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, setting off for Beijing last week, lamely declared: “It is very timely to exchange views with the host of the six-party talks and the country with the most influence on North Korea.” Not only did Noda overlook the futility of the talks but also that China’s “influence” sustains the existence of the wretched Pyongyang regime.

Four policies on Korea are possible for Beijing: Protect North Korea, with slight restraint upon it, resulting in no change. Actively promote an indefinite life for Stalinist Pyongyang (“Our East Germany,” Korea scholars in Beijing whisper; “if it falls Communist rule in China may also fall”). Gradually draw the North into Northeast China as a dependent “autonomous region,” benefiting Beijing’s strategic situation but infuriating Seoul. Finally and best, China could pull off its first diplomatic triumph as a risen power by orchestrating, with Washington, the reunification of One Korea, bringing a new vista to Northeast Asia.

The charade of treating North Korea as a troubled child requiring kid‑glove handling by five patient adults has been fruitless. Steps toward Korean reunification can crack the nuclear threat from Pyongyang, lend hope to people in the North, and eventually ease a wracking pain at the heart of Northeast Asia. One Korea, for all its unknowns, is the solution. A grand bargain between Washington and Beijing can trigger the process. Japan spurred Korean nationalism through its colonial rule. Washington and Moscow were responsible for dividing Korea. These two plus Beijing bore heavy responsibility for the outbreak of the Korean War.

Korea is owed its reunification, the spiritual battle with the North for Korea’s future has been won by Seoul, and the heartbreaking cost of a third Kim dictatorship would outweigh the risk and price of a managed unification.

Ross Terrill, associate in research at Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, is the author of Mao, The New Chinese Empire, and Madam Mao.