South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced the return of the six men, aged between 27 and 67, at the truce village of Panmunjom Friday, along with the body of the South Korean wife of one of the defectors. The six South Korean citizens was a curious move by North Korea, in which the KCNA (Pyongyang’s official news agency) announced that it “leniently pardoned” the individuals prior to their release back to South Korea.
In a continued series of predictably unpredictable (yet potentially rational) moves by one of the world’s most secretive and closed states, here are three things to know about North Korea’s latest move:
1. COLD WAR CALCULUS: North Korea’s move was more than a mere “olive branch” based on good will for recent failed talks related to family reunions and other related efforts, as many have speculated. Instead, it is part of Pyongyang’s ongoing Cold War calculus, which somewhat resembles a multi-dimensional chessboard in which the country’s top minds game scenarios on how to maximize the chance of power perpetuation. In its Cold War calculus, Pyongyang has concluded that a perceived good will gesture at this point would maximize future economic and non-economic benefits in various forms, including bilateral and multilateral talks with members of the international community.
2. EMPATHY EFFORT FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY: North Korea has repatriated six South Korean nationals to be perceived in a better light from the purview of the international community, both at the leadership level as well as the everyday person. The DPRK understands that such perception is one important piece among many complex moving pieces to garner possible support through efforts meant to garner empathy from those outside its traditional allies (namely, Beijing) in a form of international security hedge play.
3. PROVOCATION PRECURSOR: One pattern from Pyongyang is that a perceived good will gesture can at times be followed by a direct or indirect act of provocation. This is somewhat akin to a finance play involving a perfect hedge that involves taking a risk position for potential gain that is completely (perfectly) hedged by another play to mitigate such related risk. If Pyongyang believes in that such international security hedge can work in reality, then it may actually incentivize North Korea to take even more risk now or in the future.
For a related article by CNN.com by Tim Hume, in which Jasper Kim is quoted, CLICK HERE.