[OUTLOOK]Seoul’s major role in 6-way talksNo matter how urgent and difficult the current situation might be, we must not forget the road we have taken in the past and the direction we need to pursue in the future. In the run up to the six-nation meeting in Beijing, we realize again that Korea is destined to secure its survival and prosperity in the middle of regional giants. It is about time we calmly look back on our past path and make our future direction clear.
The six nations attending the Beijing talks ― as well as the entire international community ― are focused on Pyeongyang’s nuclear weapons program. But only South Korea can prove that the nuclear issue, despite the latest buzz about its urgency and threat, was not created overnight, but has originated from a half-century-long history of confrontation and division on the Korean Peninsula.
We need to emphasize this and persuade other nations that the resolution of the nuclear threat posed by Pyeongyang is not just about the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation, but should be handled in a larger context. We need to challenge the division of the peninsula in order to resolve the nuclear issue.
None of the other partners in the talks ― the United States, Russia, China and Japan ― can be assumed to have a complete understanding and real sense of history when it comes to the division of the peninsula. For Americans, Russians, Chinese and Japanese, the division in 1945 or the Korean War in 1950 might be just another chapter in the history book. That is why the South Korean government is obliged to educate and persuade them of our position. We need to let them understand why Pyeongyang’s demand for guarantees for its regime cannot be attained through bargaining with Washington. Guaranteeing North Korea its system can only be effective when it is combined with Pyeongyang’s willingness to respect and fulfill its responsibilities to keep a series of promises with Seoul to pursue one ethnic community.
We have to reconfirm, at the six-nation talks, that the inter-Korean agreements based on the spirit of independence made over the last three decades ― the July 4 South-North Joint Statement, the agreement on peace, non-aggression and exchange between the two Koreas, the joint declaration of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration ― will be respected.
Pyeongyang’s nuclear weapons development is, of course, strongly criticized by the international community. South Korea cannot tolerate Pyeongyang’s nuclear ambition on a more fundamental level because the North shamelessly violated the joint declaration of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The situation has changed since the declaration, but we hope that the Beijing meeting can persuade the North to return to the denuclearization principle that its late leader Kim Il-sung promised.
The South Korean government’s role in the six-way talks is indispensable and extremely important. That is why we fervently reject the idea of an international meeting on issues affecting the peninsula where Seoul is excluded or underrepresented.
We need to forget the naive idea that the result counts more than the process. The process of talks or negotiations will inevitably influence their course and outcome. This is a rule of thumb in diplomacy for inter-Korean relations, especially the nuclear issue.
The six-nation talks should not remain a narrow ground of negotiations to make Pyeongyang give up its nuclear program in return for guaranteeing its system. It is desirable to make the meeting the beginning of a multilateral workshop to develop a new framework for the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region. Especially, we do not want to see any more of Pyeongyang’s usual “hostage strategy” of naming South Korea as a convenient target for attack and threat.
In fact, North Korea’s strategy ― creating tension and a crisis psychology with nuclear weapons development and boasting of its preparation and willingness to start a war ― is cowardly, unfair and anti-nation because it is addressing its offensive not to Washington, Beijing, Tokyo or Moscow, but to Seoul. We hope Pyeongyang will make a drastic decision to get back on the promised track to build an ethnic unity based on inter-Korean cooperation.
The desire for a nation can only be fulfilled when we have the will and capacity to protect our sovereignty and freedom by ourselves, and never allow the country to become a hostage to any kind of threat.
President Roh Moo-hyun had declared that unification is an important national goal but must not be hurried if the cost is disturbance of the peace. Let us take a step forward and reconfirm the national will that even the grand dream of peace and unification cannot justify the sacrifice of our liberty. Based on the principles of freedom, peace and unification, Seoul must play an active role in the coming six-nation talks.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?