North Korea continues to deny responsibility for the March 26 torpedo attacks on the South Korean warship Cheonan. But South Korean technical experts have found metal fragments of a torpedo, and residue of military explosives, inside the recovered wreckage of the Cheonan. South Korean defense officials have obtained North Korean torpedoes in the past, and are submitting the metal and explosives in those torpedoes to tests so that comparisons can be made to explosive residue and metal fragments found inside the Cheonan. If there is a match, the government may be reluctant to release the results, and face a public outcry and calls for revenge.
South Korea has not officially blamed North Korea for the attack. South Korea has announced military reforms. This will provide South Korea with specialized troops and equipment to better deal with North Korea's sneaky tactics (like torpedo attacks, as well as murdering South Korean diplomats and blowing up commercial aircraft, which North Korea has done in the past.) Over the past two decades, South Korea has built up its conventional forces to the point where North Korea is no longer confident in its ability to invade the south, and have any chance of conquering it. Now South Korea will concentrate more on countering North Korea's commando capabilities (over 150,000 special operations troops, 80 small submarines and specialized aircraft for sneaking these commandos into South Korea.) South Korea revealed that, over the last two years, North Korea had moved 50,000 of these special operations troops to near the DMZ. It was not known why this was done, but now there are suspicions that the move was made to make it easier to do more dirty deeds.
The loss of the Cheonan is not the first time North Korea has pulled a stunt like this. In 1983 a terrorist bomb killed 21 South Korean officials and Burmese during a state visit to Burma. North Korea denied any involvement, but later evidence was obtained that said otherwise. Same with the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner, that killed 115. It was later discovered that North Korean agents were responsible. In the 1960s, hundreds were killed or wounded in South Korea as North Korea sent commandoes south, with orders to kill, North Korea also sent spies, usually via submarine, but also disguised as foreign visitors from other countries. South Koreans have tolerated these attacks. But South Koreans have not forgotten, so the current Cheonan attack was, for many, the last straw, the attack that pushed many South Koreans to demand a real response.
The recent visit of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to China apparently resulted in a deadlock. North Korea refused to completely reform its economy (like China did) or consider eliminating its nuclear weapons program in return for lots of foreign aid. But to placate the Chinese, Kim agreed to renew discussions about reviving negotiations to trade North Korea's nuclear weapons program for foreign aid. More importantly, North Korea is allowing Chinese firms more access to the North Korean economy, and more control over North Korean companies they invest in. This has been going on, slowly, for the last few years, and the results have been encouraging. The more experienced and efficient Chinese management have made North Korean companies more productive. Now this program is being greatly expanded. Not as much as China wanted, but enough so that most North Koreans will witness how much better the Chinese run things.
May 15, 2010: Two North Korean patrol boats crossed the maritime frontier off the west coast. They were forced back by South Korean warships that fired warning shots.
May 14, 2010: Along the Chinese border, North Koreans were happy to find that electricity was turned on for up to three hours a day, instead of just one hour a day. But later is was determined that this was so that the secret police could operate their cell phone jamming equipment more frequently. It's illegal for North Koreans to use a Chinese cell phone in North Korea, but many people do, and along the border, they can connect with the Chinese phone system and the outside world.
May 7, 2010: North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, returned from a four day visit to China. There, Kim sought to negotiate a deal with China. North Korea wants essential food and energy supplies, to avert famine and complete economic collapse. Pictures of Kim Jong Il, taken during the visit, show the North Korean leader as ill and frail, which explains the recent efforts to position his youngest son as his heir. Apparently, this visit also sought to gain Chinese acceptance of the heir apparent. But China demanded a high price. North Korea has to allow more Chinese economic opportunity in North Korea. And that meant that North Korea's old school communists have to back off and allow the kind of economic reforms that have transformed China in the last three decades. There was a lot of resistance from North Korean bureaucrats to this, but the Chinese played hardball. Over the last few years, China has been moving more military units to the North Korean border, and holding military exercises that seemed to imply a large scale movement into North Korea. What the Chinese are planning for is a government collapse in North Korea, perhaps triggered by pro-China factions staging a coup. China apparently will try to intervene before South Korea and the United States do.
The Chinese also want North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program, which is seen as aimed at China as well. The Chinese don't mind if the North Koreans extract a high price from South Korea, Japan and America for this, as long as the nukes are gone, and stay gone. Again, failure to comply may lead to more energetic action against Kim dynasty rule. Kim was not persuaded, and insisted on keeping the nukes, as the ultimate form of protection for his control of North Korea. This Chinese threat apparently did not work. Kim did not blink, and now it's up to China to decide whether they want to make the situation worse in North Korea by not sending food and fuel.