[GLOBAL EYE]Why nobody understands usIs the Roh Moo-hyun government a leftist government? A dispute has risen over the personnel appointed by Mr. Roh to the National Intelligence Service, which is traditionally supposed to be the most conservative government agency of them all. But it is not the political color of the Korean government that is of interest to the outside world. It is the government’s perception of reality. The public concern over dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program and the future of the economic reforms also arise from doubts about how the government seems to perceive reality. Quite a few foreigners are wondering whether the Roh government is serious about North Korea’s nuclear threat and where the sword of the government, now aimed at jaebeol reform and labor-management disputes, will swing next.
In the past half-century, we have experienced war and revolution, military dictatorship and democratization, anti-communism and pro-North Koreanism. In the process, we have unknowingly become accustomed to uncertainty. This is why many people seem to harbor the vague idea that our troubles with North Korea’s nuclear program will end happily. Vague expectations arise in mental capabilities unable to produce realistic alternatives. This is a sort of social disease that occurs when it is difficult to predict the future based on reliable information and rational analysis. Vague expectations are also the product of a leadership that lacks the ability to enlighten its confused people. Underneath such symptoms lies the feeling of persecution.
Ours has always been a history of feeling intimidated. It is the same with our relationship with North Korea. Perhaps it is because of this that our hearts feel that we are one people with the North regardless of the liberal democracy here and socialism there. It is through these psychological gaps that North Korea skillfully maneuvers its demands for “mutual assistance among our people.” The self-hypnotism that North Korea would never aim its nuclear weapons at its ethnic cousins in the South is also part of the complex of having been bullied around so much by neighboring superpowers. The duality of being frightened at the prospect of U.S. troops repositioning or withdrawing from Korea while discreetly sympathizing with anti-Americanism is a joint product of a distorted perception of national security and a rebellious hostility toward the outside world.
North Korea surpasses us in its blindness to reality. North Korea did not calculate that its threats of missiles and nuclear weapons would egg the Japanese on to modernize its military, or that its admission that it kidnapped Japanese citizens would arouse such a furor.
North Korea has been far more vocal than the South in its warnings to Japan against a revival of militarism. Yet it is indifferent to the fact that its statements about its possession of nuclear weapons are driving other parties in directions that it does not want them to go. This is the limit of the North Korean style of perceiving reality. In their negligence about perceiving reality, the North and the South are no different.
If we sincerely think that North Korea’s nuclear bluffs are its way of asking for a guarantee for its regime and as a card for negotiation, and if we want to encourage a major compromise between the United States and North Korea, we should be ready to openly say that we are willing to accept any kind of regime in Pyeongyang. But if we insist that the human rights situation of North Korea, from where thousands of people flee and where hundreds of thousands of political prisoners are imprisoned, is not a priority for us, we have in fact already told the North Koreans that we are willing to accept the status quo.
These are the discrepancies in our policies that the United States does not understand. The United States also does not understand how the progressive “2030” generation ― Koreans in their 20s and 30s who voted for the Roh government ― could remain silent on the issue of the human rights of their ethnic cousins. Moreover, Washington has made it known that it is curious about the reactions within South Korea should it step forward to accept certain numbers of North Korean refugees in the United States.
It seems that this proposal is intended for the younger generation, whom it regards as being more familiar with the ideologies of democracy and humanitarianism. At the same time, the U.S. government is worried that its proposal would provoke the North Korean government and even raise further anti-American sentiments among younger South Koreans. We seem to be a difficult book that even our ally of half a century finds hard to read.
The reason the young people of Korea are the objects of attention is because they were the main pillars of change and reform. Yet a poll shows that over half of the young want to emigrate from Korea.
It is the historical debt of the government that has gained power thanks to the young to correct the perspective of these young people. Of course, this would require setting its own perspectives correctly.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kil Jeong-woo