Kim’s nuke test proves gift of sorts for S. Korea leader

By Foster Klug , AP

SEOUL–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 on 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 over 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.

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.

The test is “immediately quieting down” the most contentious complaints against Park, said Yoon Tae-Ryong, a professor at Seoul’s Konkuk University.

“Some members of the ruling party must be grinning inside.”

Shortly after the North’s test, Park put her front-line troops on their highest alert, reportedly moved missiles, artillery and other weapons closer to the border, partially banned South Koreans from a jointly run factory park in the North and allowed huge green speakers along the border to begin cranking out South Korean K-pop songs and criticism of the North’s leadership.