|Consider how many verbal red lines South Korea’s president stomped across Tuesday when she let fly against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
She warned, in the bluntest possible way, of the authoritarian North’s worst nightmare–“regime collapse.” She invoked the North Korean leader’s “extreme reign of terror.” Extraordinarily, President Park Geun-hye even used Kim’s name three times in her speech to parliament, something usually avoided at her level.
These words signal a tough new stance from South Korea in an already anxious standoff that began with North Korea’s nuclear test last month.
To make the combination of jabs sting even more, Park’s comments came on the birthday of Kim’s late dictator father, Kim Jong Il, a revered national holiday in the North. Happy birthday, Kim family.
The brusque tone of Park’s comments directly challenge the powerful, ubiquitous North Korean propaganda machine’s portrayal of the dictators who have run the country since its founding in 1948 as infallible and able to stand up to the vicious enemies that surround the tiny, proud North.
Any high-level talk of regime collapse by the conservative president of rival South Korea–and by the daughter of one of the North’s most hated enemies, late South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee–amounts to fighting words.
As always, the animosity, both between the Koreas and within divided South Korea, also points to a bitter truth at the heart of the divided peninsula. Both authoritarian Pyongyang and democratic Seoul cherish the notion of eventual reunification; each, however, sees that new single Korea with its own government in charge.