There are few clues to the motives of south Korean leaders.

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There are few clues as to the motives of South Korea’s leaders.

A senior north Korean nuclear diplomat in the bush administration is in Beijing today. The visit of U.S. special envoy Christopher hill followed that of the United States. The security council has decided to delay a resolution imposing sanctions on Pyongyang. The resolution was sponsored by Japan.

As the world tries to respond to north Korea’s actions, those at the center of the crisis remain silent. Kim jong-il, China’s leader, is characterised by lunatics who have thrived in the global crisis. How unreasonable was his behavior? Or is there some madness behind it? NPR’s Louisa Lim invited an expert on a recent trip to Seoul.

LOUISA LIM reports:

It’s a mystery.

(oral English)

LIM: he’s a world leader and likes to laugh at him, but he inspires absolute fear at home. Kim is known for his furry hair, shoes and caricatures of ducks. The north Korean leader is sometimes caricatured as the food of cognac, a country where hundreds of thousands or even millions of obese men have died in famine. His paranoia is legendary. But George Bush says he hates the inner workings of Kim jong-il. So the fear of someone going out to pick him up may be valid.

(South Korea, former UN ambassador) : I’m not sure if Kim jong il is crazy or irrational, but he’s an absolute dictator.

LIM: sun renyong is a former south Korean ambassador to the United Nations. He said Kim’s unpredictable brinkmanship was not a reflection of his personality, but of his father, Kim il sung, a former national leader.

Mr. Sun: I don’t think this kind of diplomacy is limited to Kim jong-il because they have used the same strategy in north Korea for 60 years.

Lin: some people think these latest missile launches are a well-planned shot to get attention and bring Washington to the negotiating table.

Mr. MICHAEL BREEN (dear north Korean leader Kim jong-il) : from the outside, it looks like a madman. But it’s not paranoid. If so, it is the behavior of a national leader who wants to be taken seriously.

LIM: Michael Breen is the author of a book about Kim jong il. He sees the leader as a shrewd political operator, able to hold power despite huge problems in the north.

Mr. Bollen: it’s taking advantage of one of those priorities. One aspect of its international competitiveness is its ability to create problems. That’s what he’s doing. He is playing his only strong card, which is the ability to scare us off.

LIM: perhaps the biggest unknown is the domestic political calculations involved in launching these missiles. This may be an attempt to gain support by using the country’s powerful military. For those living in the hermit kingdom, Mr Kim’s contempt for world opinion may seem brave. But it may also be desperation to force America to strangle the regime’s finances.

Peter baker of the international crisis group says the king may need to strengthen his support base at home.

Mr. PETER BECK (director of the international crisis organization’s northeast Asia program) : I think there have been increasing signs of political tension in recent months. It is increasingly difficult to provide food for world food programs and non-governmental organizations, and to bring some of it out to make life harder. So, this leads me to guess that right now, things can be very difficult for the regime, well, they need more enemies than their friends, and now, uh, bring them together.

(music)

LIM: north Korea has long been known for its mass rallies, and it’s a great way for 100,000 people to move at the same time. This love of landscape and political theater can provide a window into the personality of north Korea’s leaders.

(the sound of the movie is “gone with the wind”)

Mr. Clark glebe (rhett butler) frankly, dear, I didn’t mean to be mean.

LIM: “gone with the wind” is said to be the most popular movie in the movie. He is such a movie buff that in 1978 Kim jong il even ordered the kidnapping of south Korean director shin shin shin shin and his girlfriend choe hee. They spent eight years in the north. Writer Michael brin says the episode shows how Kim’s values are distorted.

Mr. Bay: when the actress was kidnapped and the boat came in, he was there, welcoming the north koreans. The guy didn’t really realize that he was violating the rights of others. To me, it’s not crazy. That’s because his moral system is subordinate to a regime loyal to them.

Lin: ultimately, king’s actions have a purpose: to ensure the survival of his regime and his country. That is the highest bet, and may be tempered by the failure of a long-range missile last week. The threat of more missiles, perhaps more, the dangerous game may not be over.

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