[VIEWPOINT]Keep the big stick close at hand

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[VIEWPOINT]Keep the big stick close at hand

The happenings on the Korean Peninsula are odd and hard to understand. North Korea televised a World Cup match involving the South Korean national team only a few days before it suddenly attacked the South Korean Navy in the Yellow Sea, off Korea's west coast. The reaction by South Korea is even more odd. Seoul continued to operate ships for Mount Geumgang tourism in the East Sea (Sea of Japan), although the sea battle caused many casualties in the west. In addition, the South Korean defense chief is demanding from North Korea an apology and assurances that such armed provocations will end, while its North Korea policy chief is assuring us that the sunshine policy will continue. How can we make sense of all this?

Relations between North and South Korea are duplicitous. Though the two Koreas are now promoting reconciliation and cooperation with each other, the two countries are still at odds. Such conditions make it difficult for Seoul to take proper measures against provocations. But, it is a simple policy fault if we are not prepared to respond properly to changing situations.

Let's look at the hot issue, whether to keep operating the Mount Geumgang tourism ships. What message does South Korea want to deliver to North Korea? It is demanding an apology and assurances from North Korea, while assuring them that South Korean tourists will continue to go to Mount Geumgang. Now the Geumgang tourist project is not pure tourism. It is a kind of financial support to North Korea; we pay them in U.S. dollars, and that is more important to the North than our donation of rice and fertilizer. What message does Seoul want to convey by continuing such an important form of support despite North Korea's armed provocation? Would that not bring about another attack by North Korea? The demand for an apology and an end to armed provocations, without a strong response to past provocations, rings very hollow. If South Korea really wants to make North Korea accept its demands, its attitude should be more resolute and straightforward. We should make North Korea realize that it will have to pay a high price, whether in economic or diplomatic currency, for its armed attacks. North Korea depends only on military force. We should be prepared to suppress its use of military force to get its way.

The government seems very irresponsible in refusing to re-examine its sunshine policy and asserting the consistency of the policy. But a consistent policy, regardless of the counterpart's reaction, could bring about adverse effects. Turning the other cheek is what the administration means by the "consistency of the sunshine policy"? We should not overlook North Korea's armed provocation, which has thrown a wet blanket over the improvement of South Korea's image because of the World Cup games.

South Korea should reconsider the meaning of its agreements with North Korea. We should respect the historical meaning of the June 15 inter-Korean summit and the joint declaration after the summit. But we should not neglect the limitations of the agreement. It has already been a subject of controversy because the two Koreas have different views on some ambiguous phrases in the June 15 document. Even laying that point aside, a more fundamental problem remains: Agreements must be adhered to if the agreements are to have any meaning. If the counterpart has the idea that an agreement can be broken any time, we need to have force in reserve to maintain the agreement with such a counterpart.

We should recall the case of Yemen, a Muslim country in the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula. In 1967, South Yemen declared that it was separating from North Yemen to pursue its own communist future. Despite several military collisions, the two Yemens promoted unification and finally did reunite in 1990 after numerous summit meetings and agreements. But in 1994, the country once more exploded in civil war; North Yemen won that war and achieved reunification by force of arms. The case shows us that an agreement between separated countries can be easily broken.

President Kim Dae-jung declared after the summit in Pyeongyang that there would be no war on the Korean Peninsula. But the war has not ended.


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The writer is the dean of School of Law at Hanyang University.

by Yang Kun

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