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Eureka: Is North Korea bluffing again? Eureka: Is North Korea bluffing again?
by Jay Gutman
2018-08-12 08:33:08
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Let me be concise and a little vulgar. Apologies for that. Sasha Baron Cohen, in his Bruno character, a acting as gay Austrian reporter, his character meets a Christian pastor for gay conversion therapy. That is Bruno wants to become straight and starts asking questions. He asks “can I hug men?” and the pastor says of course. The he asks, pardon the French, “can I spend the rest of my life with a chick with a dick. He's almost all the way there but he's got something to remind me of the good old days.” The pastor, confused by the vulgar question, says something like “you need to know where their heart is.”

nkote01_400Negotiations with North Korea have been going exactly in that direction. North Korea wants to get rid of the nukes, but wants to keep some of them to remind them of the good old days. American negotiators are trying to formulate the negotiations in clear terms, and Koreans are using the “our language is vague and our culture is vague so we want a vague agreement” excuse.

So let me use what I hope will be a simple analogy. Imagine American language and culture being a 16 and North Korean language and culture being a 15. American delegation Korean interpreters are 15.5s, that is they are translating the English, but in vague Korean terms. You need interpreters who are 16s and 15s, not 15.5s. That is you need interpreters who speak perfect Korean and English and who can translate both the words and the cultural context. 

Korean culture also tends to put very little context into things and is what I like to call a “language of tokens.” That is history books tend to have dates and one-liners rather than have deep, contextualized explanations. The Korean language tends to be concise and devoid of any context. So how do you work effectively with this major cultural difference?

My recommendation would be this. Before the negotiations, the US could send a one liner and say there is more to come. North Korea replies with a one-liner, the US adds a line to that line, North Korea adds a line to that line, back and forth, back and forth, until the declarations are clear and complete. You could then formalize the agreement, invite the press, read the joint declarations and have Pyongyang buckwheat noodles and raspberry wine to celebrate.

Will the North Koreans implement the joint declaration? If you ask them every couple of hours whether they are implementing the declaration, they could feel pressured. So the idea is to check on them twice a week, preferably every Monday evening around 3 PM Pyongyang time and Thursday evening around 3PM Pyongyang time. Thursday evenings tend to be reserved for very alcoholic parties, and Fridays everyone's hangover. A lot of people also drink on Monday and Tuesday evening, so Tuesday and Wednesday calls tend not to be useful.

Invite them to tell you what they're up to rather than asking very specific questions about the denuclearization. How are things going? Is better than “did you implement article 5 section 3 and is article 7 on the way.” Koreans dislike that level of formality.

Just my two cents. 

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