Kim’s nuke test proves gift of sorts for rival

Published 10:20 am Monday, January 11, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s nuclear test has provoked global outrage, a push for sanctions, even fear. But Kim Jong Un’s decision to conduct it has also handed a gift of sorts to his rival in the South.

In an instant, Wednesday’s explosion shifted the focus of debate about the presidency of Park Geun-hye, who has faced several mass protests condemning her leadership in recent weeks.

Park’s swift, hard-line response, including a return of cross-border propaganda broadcasts that Pyongyang loathes, has, for the time being, overshadowed criticism of her leadership style, her alleged abuse of workers’ rights and her purported submission to Tokyo in a deal meant to end a dispute over Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women.

Email newsletter signup

Park has temporarily stopped a slide in popularity by doing something she has proven herself adept at: Standing tall in the face of what Seoul sees as a provocation from its northern rival. A survey showed her approval rating rose slightly last week, for the first time in five weeks.

While the boost is likely temporary, the timing of the nuclear test may help Park and her ruling party. Crucial parliamentary elections loom in April.