[INSIGHT]Is Korea really a country at all?

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[INSIGHT]Is Korea really a country at all?

When something's not normal, it's different. When something is extremely different, it's abnormal. Abnormal things happen in our society lately, suspicious things, making one wonder if this indeed is a nation. It is abnormal that after several weeks we still haven't been able to track a $359 million loan made irregularly.

Recent allegations of illegal wiretapping by the National Intelligence Service make one doubt that this is a normal country. Is it a serious problem that the top intelligence agency conducts illegal wiretapping and grants political favors. It is also curious that a large amount of classified information was given to a political party. The wiretap transcript of a telephone conversation between the head of the Financial Supervisory Commission and a senior prosecutor investigating the $359 million loan case was in the hands of an opposition politician within a day of its making.

It is reported that within the agency, only the top three or four officials would have access to such transcripts. Both parties to the telephone conversation admit to having spoken. Yet the National Intelligence Service denies having made the wiretap transcript. Stranger yet, a former head of the National Intelligence Service who, as the saying goes, is supposed to "carry the secrets of the service to his grave," has announced that he more or less knows who leaked the transcripts. So, the present head of the service doesn't know, but the former head does. This is a country where the leader of the majority political party carries a secret phone to avoid wiretaps, and top officials of the government and the ruling party frequently change their cell phones. Will the situation go away with a statement that "There is no wiretapping?"

Our government's reaction to North Korea's admission of a nuclear program also makes one doubt that ours really is a normal country. It is yet unclear whether a hard-line policy or an engagement policy is better for our national interest. But before we decide that issue, we should definitively show our disapproval of the fact that North Korea broke its word and developed nuclear weapons.

The normal reaction would be to come up with an agreement on North Korea's breach of promise and explore sanctions to be imposed as a consequence. The Kim Dae-jung administration shows no such reaction. It acts as if nothing has happened, even after hearing from the United States that North Korea possesses 30 kilograms of highly enriched uranium that could be used to build one or two nuclear weapons. Even after hearing from the U.S. special envoy that Pyeongyang admits its nuclear development program, the government makes no official protest and expresses no concern. It merely talks of a "peaceful settlement." The government went on most graciously with the project to link the railways and roads of North and South. It sent the North rice and fertilizer and continued the cash flow to the North by holding cultural events and tourism projects in the North. Is this the reaction of a normal country?

We've even had the unification minister, who visited Pyeongyang, hint that the United States exaggerated the situation, claiming that "the United States seems to have left something out on purpose." Two days later, North Korea claimed not only to have chemical weapons but "something even worse." So, who's the one that's been leaving things out on purpose? Can we say that this is a normal minister of a normal country? Yet this minister is not reprimanded by his superiors. Can we say that this is a normal government?

Of course we need to solve this problem peacefully by talks. Talks, however, require us to have cards for negotiation. Even if the government's decision to continue economic cooperation with Pyeongyang is right, expressing displeasure is a negotiating card any country could easily think up. The Fin-ancial Times reported last week that South Korea had cold-shouldered the United States by continuing economic cooperation with North Korea despite the revelation of its nuclear weapons program. Can the Kim Dae-jung administration's behavior be considered normal?

There is a common element in the loan business, the wiretapping charges and North Korea's nuclear program. It is that, no matter how much the opposition and the media protest, the government is deaf to their pleas. Talk all you want, I'm going on my way. Such is the rambunctious and defiant government attitude. It shows no sign of trying to persuade the people. In the unusual republic we live in, the remaining four months feels longer than usual.

* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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