Hopes rise that leader's death will end isolation

 

World powers greeted the death of Kim Jong-il with a curious mix of anxiety and optimism yesterday, acknowledging the risks that a freshly unstable situation would create at the same time as expressing hope that the passing of the "Dear Leader" would create an opportunity for reformists to exert greater influence.

Pyongyang launched a short-range missile test within hours of the announcement of Mr Kim's death, a move that seemed to some to indicate that the regime was as unpredictable and dangerous as ever. Besides the longer-term ramifications, the news of his death came at a complex moment for relations between North Korea and the US, with a third round of diplomatic talks expected soon and badly-needed food aid to Pyongyang under debate.

But US officials insisted the tests were unrelated and Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that there had been no changes "of a nature that would alarm us".

Meanwhile, as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez mourned Mr Kim as a "comrade" and Moscow sent its condolences for North Korea's "loss", western powers largely struck a note of relief. Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Mr Kim's death could prove a "turning point," but added that it was "difficult to be optimistic" about the country's future.

But outside of its allies, North Korea's future will be most meaningfully shaped by its neighbour to the South and the US. The South Korean government and its American allies have long prepared for internal collapse in the North, drawing up contingency plans and revising them in line with the fluctuating conditions in the divided peninsula.

Seoul and Washington have been careful about broadcasting the programme due to the sensitivities of Pyongyang and Beijing. But the plan currently in place projects a huge deployment of humanitarian and economic resources into the North backed by a substantial military presence to take over the country's nuclear and armament facilities.

At the same time, the border would be closed in an effort to prevent a mass influx of refugees which could threaten to destabilise the South adding to the estimated $3m (31.9m) cost of reunifying the two Koreas.

A South Korean government document stated that the key role would be played by an "administration office headed by the Unification Minister which will be launched to bring the North under emergency rule".

The existence of what became known as CONPLAN (Conceptual Plan) 5029 has been known at least since August 1999 when Gen John H Tilelli, commander-in-chief of US Forces Korea, acknowledged its existence. "It would be unusual if we didn't have one, and we are preparing for any course of action," he said, but refused to go into details.

Aspects of the military elements in the plans had led to disagreements among the allies. In 2005, with the then South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun pursuing a foreign policy more independent from Washington, Seoul rejected an American proposal to be put in charge of the South's military capability in the event of a Northern collapse because "it would restrict the Republic of Korea's exercise of its sovereignty".

However, this changed in 2009 under the Lee Myung-bak administration which reportedly asked for 5029 to become a full operational plan at a time of heightened tension between the two Koreas.

General Walter Sharp, head of US forces in Korea, said discussions were taking place with South Korea's defence chiefs over instability in the North. It is believed the agreement was that any such mission would remain under South Korean command.

However, South Korea itself would face severe financial problems in rescuing North Korea. The World Bank, and other international bodies, estimate that the cost of reunification could be as high as $ 3 trillion, about five times the size of the South's GDP.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links