[INSIGHT]It Was More Like 'Give First, Give Later'

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[INSIGHT]It Was More Like 'Give First, Give Later'

Concession is a virtue in human relationships and sometimes in international relations. Easing confrontations through conciliatory gestures can win praise from the international community, but such praise does not necessarily advance long-term national goals. Unilateral concessions and a conciliatory posture can hurt national interests badly.

At the Korea-Japan Forum last year, a ruling party lawmaker explained the basis of President Kim Dae-jung's sunshine policy toward North Korea and its reconciliation diplomacy toward Japan in the words, "giving first and taking later." Of course, diplomacy is basically about give and take. The problem is Mr. Kim's reconciliatory policies toward North Korea and Japan do not involve simultaneous reciprocity.

North Korea and Japan escape pressure if Seoul gives first and does not ask for something in return, even if outsiders are moved by the unilateral generosity and broad-minded statesmanship. It would be welcomed in some domestic circles as well, because it brings the expectation that a tense situation may be easing. We recall, for example, how well last year's North-South Joint Communique and the 1998 Joint Declaration on Korea-Japan Partnership in the 21st Century were received domestically and internationally.

Had we received something later for our unilateral concessions, support of the policies would have grown. The question is whether "giving first" is followed by "taking later" in a bearable period of time. The engagement policy toward North Korea is about winning peace in return for economic aid, but many people think we have only been giving to North Korea in return for nothing. Of course Seoul and Pyongyang can claim some successes. There have been a few reunions of separated families, confirmation of the whereabouts of relatives, an exchange of letters, Mount Kumkang tours and a huge increase in personnel and cultural exchanges between North and South Korea.

But the arguments are becoming less and less persuasive as North Korea's mood toward South Korea chilled even before the two sides started talking about establishing a peace system on the Korean Peninsula. In a nutshell, I don't think that the "give first and take later" approach to North Korea is working, despite what the Kim administration contends. When it comes to a conciliatory policy toward Japan, even the basis for the "give first," leaving the "take later" aside, seems to be collapsing. President Kim took the initiative to open our market to Japanese popular culture, and he contends that the Japanese do indeed understand why their portrayal of their modern history has been a weighty burden on Korea-Japan relations. The initiatives accommodated long-cherished Japanese goals at one stroke. Korea expected closer Korea-Japan relations and more cooperation in various fields. President Kim's popularity skyrocketed in Japan and the bilateral relationship improved markedly.

But with the Japanese government's approval of new militaristic history textbooks, the basis for President Kim's positive evaluation of Japanese historical understanding crumbled. We engaged in wishful thinking. In retrospect, our concessions damaged our ability to respond to the recurrence of the textbook issue; We have to take up again the issue of Japanese historical understanding, which Mr. Kim thought he had put to rest in 1998. President Kim's positive evaluation of Japan was far-fetched from the beginning. Even while he was giving indulgences for the historical sins of the Japanese, movements to inspire a nationalistic value system in Japanese history teaching were expanding among conservative politicians of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and members of right wing groups. This nationalistic impulse resulted in the textbooks written by the "Japan Society for Textbook Reform" recently approved by Japanese government.

Through my participation in a Korea-Japan history study committee in 1998 and 1999, I saw that the historical view described in the new textbooks belongs to a minority group of history scholars in Japan. At the same time, however, I came to the conclusion that Japanese society had no power or will to stop their publication.

Even if Seoul belatedly called home our ambassador and ask the Japanese government formally to revise the textbooks, I doubt there will be any short-term change. So with Japan as with Pyongyang, we see a failure of the "give first, take later" policy. What else can we do but withdraw the "give first"? We have to start over, withdraw our position that Japan understands the issue, and freeze the scheduled market opening to Japanese popular culture. We also have to strengthen our occupation of Tokdo Island, where our actions have been extremely restrained. In other words, we have to review all possible means to put pressure on Japan to induce them to revise the textbooks. National security and diplomacy can not be victims of vague expectations and emotion. They must be grounded in reality and implemented through strict verification and reciprocity.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Seong Byong-wook

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