[NOTEBOOK]The grand adventure now begins

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[NOTEBOOK]The grand adventure now begins

"Some had blue eyes, yellow hair, sharp noses and short beards or mustaches without whiskers. They wore garments that covered their thighs with the garments split in four places. Collars and cuffs had strings that could be tied and slacks were pleated like skirts."

When a Dutch merchant ship with 36 crew members was damaged by storms and limped into port on Jeju island in 1653, Lee Weon-jin, an official who captured the crew, submitted detailed reports of their appearance and clothing to the royal court. After 14 years in custody, eight of the crew succeeded in escaping from Korea in 1666 and returned to the Netherlands. One of them was Hendrik Hamel, who introduced Korea for the first time to the Western world by publishing a story of his adventures. J. J. Weltevree, who was washed ashore on Jeju in 1627 and became the first Westerner to be naturalized, was also Dutch.

The 350th anniversary of Hamel's arrival here will come next year. It is interesting that there is a boom in Dutch connections with Korea -- both North and South.

First it was Guus Hiddink, the former coach of the South Korean national soccer team, and now there is Yang Bin, a Chinese-Dutch national.

The appointment of Yang Bin as the first governor of the special administrative district in Sinuiju by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has drawn a great deal of attention. There are contradictory evaluations: Mr. Kim took everyone by surprise with an extraordinary idea; or Mr. Kim took a dangerous gamble, tricked by a crook whose background he did not investigate. Many persons have said they are bewildered; they do not know what Mr. Kim's true intentions are. But Mr. Kim's "surprise attack" had already began when he met Japanese Prime Minister Juniichiro Koizumi.

The North Korean leader frankly admitted that his country had abducted Japanese civilians and apologized to Mr. Koizumi. The North previously responded angrily every time the Japanese raised the subject, saying the allegations of kidnapping were a lie.

The North's change in attitude is close to raising a flag of surrender. The radical concept of the Sinuiju project, an unprecedented experiment in opening up by the socialist nation, can be seen as an unimaginable retreat by the North from its stubborn socialism.

Vladimir Lenin, the Russian Communist revolutionary leader, once said, "Politics is not a doctor's skill in treating a single patient, but an art that controls the fate of millions of people." Mr. Kim might have realized the true meaning of Lenin's statement now for the first time. An unyielding spirit that death would be better than living with dishonor may be worth words of praise for an individual, but not a wise choice for a nation's leader.

After the North Korea-Japan summit, the situation in Korean Peninsula has been changing fast. With Japan appearing as a new player on the Korean Peninsula, a strange atmosphere emerged between the United States and Japan. After Japan suggested a summit of leaders of six countries: South and North Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States, Russia is trying to boost its influence on the Korean Peninsula, focusing on a project to get its railroads connected with those here. China is showing indifference to the Sinuiju project as a way of keeping Japan and Russia from getting too involved. To catch up with the changing times, the United States announced a resumption of talks with North Korea. The traditional superpowers surrounding the peninsula seem to be bustling around.

Korea had a painful experience of losing its independence because of its failure to properly deal with power struggles among the colonial powers. Even after independence, the country was divided because of the greed of South and North Korean politicians. The North Korean leader has now embarked on a bold adventure. The adventure may succeed or fail. Korea needs to prepare for the possibility of either success or failure.

We should not repeat the mistake of leaving our fate to be manipulated by politicians who only have a desire for power but no vision or keen insights. It is a bit difficult not to feel uneasy about how we will handle our role in this adventure as it begins.


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The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Bae Myung-bok

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