&#91VIEWPOINT&#93Chinese history offers good lesson

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

[VIEWPOINT]Chinese history offers good lesson

The whole nation is reeling from the scandal involving cash sent to North Korea. We constantly hear such claims as "It was just a presidential prerogative to promote reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula," or "The South bought the inter-Korean summit," or "It was President Kim's scheme to receive the Nobel Peace Prize."

We hear such news that the United States, whose president called the North part of an "axis of evil," decided to augment its military power on the Korean Peninsula. A large military confrontation on the peninsula is not impossible.

Problems concerning North-South relations have always haunted us. Still, the problems have never been as great as these days and there does not seem to be a dramatic solution that can take care of the problems. But let's take a look at a historic case in ancient China, which I think might help us understand the current problems.

General Liu Bang defeated the mighty Qin Empire (221 B.C. to 206 B.C.) and became the founder of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220). After the conquest of the Qin, Liu Bang went on a military campaign to defeat the Huns. He went deep inside the enemy camp, but was arrested by the ambushed Huns and was put behind bars. He was able to be released by promising the Huns that he would hand over a great amount of gold, food and clothes every year. He even promised to let his daughter marry a Hun. The kings of the two countries then signed a pact and set a border line. It was a de facto non-aggression treaty, but they called it a "Peace Treaty."

The peace treaty, however, did not last long. A couple of years later, the Huns attacked the edges of the Han Dynasty, destroying hundreds of villages and killing countless people. Then the Huns dispatched a special envoy to the Han Dynasty and asked for the resumption of a peace treaty on the condition that Han should send more money to them. The Han Dynasty, which longed for stability in the frontier and peace, accepted the Huns' offer.

Years went by and the money transfer to the Huns soared. Indeed, the Han Dynasty's policy was just a "peace buying diplomacy," and at one point, Han was unable to send money to the Huns any longer. After all, under the rule of the emperor Wu-ti (141 B.C. to 87 B.C.) it deserted the peace policy and stood firm against the Huns by attacking the Huns for decades. But the war between the Huns and the Han Dynasty ended in total disaster, greatly damaging both sides. Just before his death Wu-ti acknowledged engaging in the war was his mistake.

Both the peace treaty and the war, after all, ended in failure. What would have been an alternative to both policies then? A Chinese classic, which recorded the history of the Han Dynasty, presents the third way: "If they attack us, then we punish them and defend ourselves. If they come to us in peace, we treat them with courtesy. We should not break the ties but control them by slackening or tightening the rein."

The key words in the book were "rein" and "control." The book was arguing that in such relations as that between the Huns and Han, an effective controlling of the ties is necessary to maintain a middle of the road position. What I call the "rein policy" might help North-South relations. I doubt the effectiveness of the "sunshine" policy, the unilateral peace policy of the Kim Dae-jung administration, toward the unyielding North.

I am also critical of the firm attitude of the Bush administration of the United States, which defines the North as part of an axis of evil. That kind of resolute stance may bring catastrophic results to the Korean Peninsula.

The rein policy may sound too tepid. But it teaches us the importance of moderation and wisdom. It also tells how important time and patience are. The world is not composed of only peace and confrontation. It would be worthwhile to listen to the advice from the old Chinese book.

* The writer is a professor of Chinese history at Seoul National University.

by Kim Ho-dong
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now