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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
North Korea on Thursday responded for the first time to the ongoing Choi Sun-sil scandal in South Korea, saying that it symbolizes the “de-facto collapse of the current (South Korean) government.”
The unusually rapid response time demonstrates the North’s level of interest in the scandal, experts have said, one noting that it may affect the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
“The current government faces de-facto collapse,” Rodong Sinmun, the North’s most read national newspaper said. “…Park Geun-hye and her party face the worst political crisis ever.”
The article reported that politicians, governors, and various South Korean newspapers were “enraged” after the news broke on Monday, adding that the South Korea’s top internet search results were “impeachment” and “resignation” of President Park.
It is the norm to take about two to three days for the South Korean domestic events to make North Korea’s largest newspaper. The fact that Rodong referred to events on October 26, a day before publication, showed that the North is keeping a keen eye on the scandal, an expert said.
“Pyongyang probably views this as an opportunity to discredit Park during this avalanche of negative public opinion against her,” Dr. Daniel Pinkston, a professor at Troy University and a long-time North Korea watcher, told NK News.
“So this probably was made a priority in the North’s media reporting since the regime dislikes her so much.”
Another expert agreed, arguing that Rodong‘s coverage shows that “Pyongyang’s antennas are all pointed” towards the affair.
“The Park administration will be ‘paralyzed’ until the end of her term,” Choi Young-il, a Seoul-based political pundit and a professor affiliated with Kyunghee University, told NK News.
“The deployment of the THAAD system before the end of her term – which was the original plan – will be impossible as the Seoul government has lost so much political momentum from this outbreak, and this will only get worse over the time.”
But Pinkston saw it otherwise, adding that this internal deadlock would result in “automatic pilot mode” in the military alliance between the South Korean and the U.S.
“The military aspect of the U.S.-ROK alliance will go on the automatic pilot over the next eight months or so, and THAAD will be deployed,” he said.
Choi Sun-sil, an unauthorized individual and an old friend of President Park, was given access to top-secret information and even influenced policy making, reports have suggested.
Since the scandal broke on Monday, President Park’s approval rate has dropped to the lowest point during her term, hitting 17.5 percent, according to a poll by Realmeter from Wednesday.
Edited by: Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun, Youtube