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[OUTLOOK]North is playing a busted hand

May 14,2003
We hope the summit meeting between President Roh and President Bush will be a successful one. The two sides have finished their preparation and coordination to ensure the success of the meeting, and both presidents seem to be the type of leader who gets things done once he sets his mind on it. It would be fair to expect that this summit meeting will meet the requirements for a successful meeting.
For those who have been feeling considerable concern about the present and the future state of the U.S.-Korea relations, the summit meeting could provide a chance to let out a sigh of relief. Yet I am not confident that our government’s position has been arranged neatly into a package, cleared of all the confusion that it has been showing lately and delivered to the United States clearly. That is why experts are pouring in all sorts of hopes and advice for this summit meeting. Many people believe that this is the best ― no, the only ― chance to smooth our bilateral relations with the United States.
The most urgent issue that South Korea and the United States should deal with together is, of course, North Korea. Right at this point of a summit meeting in which North Korea will be the central issue, South Korea and the United States hold an overwhelmingly advantageous position over North Korea.
First, the outcome of the war in Iraq has made unnecessary further demonstrations of the might of the U.S. military machine. Second, a wide consensus has formed in international society that it can no longer ignore North Korea’s daredevil adventures, including its nuclear program. At no other time have China, Japan, Russia and the European Union been so much in agreement with the position of South Korea and the United States on this issue. Third, the U.S.-Korea alliance will gain new impetus from this summit meeting.
If we put to appropriate use these strongly advantageous conditions, we would have a fairly high possibility of solving the North Korea problem peacefully. Yet, why isn’t there a definite mutual strategy agreed to by South Korea and the United States instead of the vague anxiety of war in the air?
It is probably because the South Korean government, as a party to the solution of the Korean Peninsula situation, has not declared its position clearly and has not gathered national support for its position. For over 10 years, since the start of the democracy movement on June 29, 1987, the South Korean government and the people have shared the same view on North-South relations, but fell prey to hesitation and confusion in organizing that view in a simple and comprehensive form.
There is no arguing that the North Korean government is a failure. What more evidence do we need but the millions of North Koreans who are at the point of starvation? There is no doubt that the North Korean regime is an orphan that willfully isolated itself from the flow of history. We can only watch with miserable envy the versatility and courage of the Communist Party-led China and Vietnam.
Nevertheless, we still have hope. How often have we vowed that there should never be another war on this land? Our determination that we will try our best for a peaceful solution no matter what hardships we face is the source of our hope. Also, we do not regard the North Korean government and the North Korean people as the same. We do not place any absolute value on state systems or governments that are the products of history. We place fundamental importance on the tradition and vision of an ethnic community that can live based on human dignity and self-will.
While we should emphasize a peaceful solution to North Korea’s nuclear program to preserve our people, we should also feel anger toward a North Korea that dismissed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty so easily. Our people are not a paralyzed and helpless hostage to the threats of the North Korean regime. We are a people ready to defend our freedom whatever the sacrifice. If South Korea and the United States, two countries that uphold freedom, should creatively use their advantages, they would still have the possibility of coaxing change out of the North Korean regime, including a solution to the nuclear issue. We will be watching and praying that the two presidents share the determination to pursue that possibility.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Lee Hong-koo


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