[INSIGHT] How Do We Handle the U.S. Factor?

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[INSIGHT] How Do We Handle the U.S. Factor?

Since the Seoul-Washington summit earlier this month, North Korea's broadcast media has turned increasingly harsh against the South. We cannot help taking special note of the "Democratic National United Front," noted for its malicious propaganda against the South, condemning it as a "vassal state being spinelessly dragged around by the United States."

Will Seoul's sunshine policy grind to a halt due to U.S. opposition? Are inter-Korean reconciliation and Seoul-Washington cooperation incompatible? Does the pursuit of inter-Korean reconciliation mean taking an anti-America and pro-reunification approach? Is national reconciliation possible only by being anti-United States? Further, does being pro-Kim Dae-jung equate to being pro-North Korea and anti-America, and being anti-DJ to anti-reunification and pro-United States? Is there no way of embracing North Korea through dialogue and cooperation while maintaining our alliance with the United States?

Since the Washington summit, such questions are giving rise to confusion and conflicts with no clear-cut answers in sight. If the doubts intensify, the conflicts over the future direction of North-South relationship and over the significance of the United States for South Korea might generate repercussions and become elements of instability in our society. We have to define the problems clearly and objectively to ease doubts and confusion. To do so, we have to plainly determine the differences between South Korea and the United States when it comes to the North and review Seoul's policy.

While we need more time to ascertain the divide between the two over the North, our government has to frankly admit a gap exists to minimize confusion. Several differences in bilateral perceptions have come to light, but the government doggedly denies any policy differences and chooses to just stress the summit outcome. Doing so only multiplies the confusion.

We can verify the stark differences in bilateral perceptions from the "Six Principles of North Korea Policy," which the United States announced after the summit: policy consultation with South Korea and Japan, support for easing tension on the Korean Peninsula, a clear understanding of the nature of the North Korean regime, a review of its entire North Korea policy, verification and monitoring the North, and an emphasis on the North's nuclear and missile proliferation activities.

From the principles, we can read Washington's determination to adopt tension-easing measures quite different from those of the previous administration, while agreeing, in principle, to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula. The clause on consultation with South Korea and Japan contradicts Washington's previously announced principle of South Korea's leading role. This can be seen as a refusal to stand by as the two Koreas unexpectedly hold a summit and simply give the United States a post briefing. It also can be an indication that the United States still does not trust North Korea and that it will hold dialogue or offer assistance only after strictly verifying whether weapons of mass destruction still exist in that nation. If the principles are enforced, Seoul's North Korea policy will not escape the criticism of being at Washington's beck and call.

We have already seen the kind of policy the Bush administration is going to adopt toward the North. How much longer are we going to insist that there are no bilateral differences? Are we going to persist in the position that our national survival has to be determined through our independent policies, and that it is not something for the United States to meddle in? If we adopt such an attitude, the pro- and anti-United States, and pro- and anti-North Korea forces within our society are going to be trapped in endless disputes over ideology.

We must make a proper internal review before we shift our attention to problems outside. Since the North-South Joint Declaration was issued on June 15, 2000, many South Koreans have voiced concerns and skepticism about the North that are quite similar to those of the Bush administration. Many pointed out that security and reconciliation ?the two pillars of North Korea policy ?have lost their balance, that North-South issues are being pursued not from the perspective of national interests but from that of the current administration, and that the government was failing to take a long-term approach based on transparency and systems, but was running a domestic political speed race with the goal of retaining power.

The national interests of South Korea and the United States are different. Yet the Bush administration and a number of South Koreans are voicing the same criticisms against Seoul's North Korea policy. Like it or not, our North Korea policy has entered a state of lull after the Washington summit. It is unavoidable that we stop the headlong rush toward the North to take a breath and revise the methods in order to enter the second stage. In the meantime, we must not take the approach of trying to define what the United States means to us, but look for the problems in our North Korea policy, and devise new strategies.


by Kwon Young-bin

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