[VIEW POINT]Do a Qaddafi, Dear LeaderCopy what Qaddafi did, the United States says to Kim Jong-il. That is, give up your nuclear weapons program, as the Libyan leader Muammar el Qaddafi did, and his rewards will be yours: reconciliation with the world community and a generous aid package.
Well, if we know anything about Mr. Kim it is that he would rather hold his breath until he turns blue than appear to acquiesce to American prodding.
Still, why not? Many eyes boggled when the U.S. State Department called Colonel Qaddafi’s renunciation “statesmanlike.” (That’s another thing. After 35 years as Libya’s dictator, wouldn’t you think he could get himself promoted to general?)
“Statesmanlike.” Wouldn’t Mr. Kim trade his nuclear program for a similar accolade? Hey, call him “humanitarian,” even “dear”; wouldn’t it be worth it to get the deal done? South Korea’s formerpresident Kim Dae-jung told some Western diplomats last week that North Korea’s leader is “ready to do a Qaddafi.” He added, “The ball is in the Americans’ court.”
“Doing a Qaddafi” would entail giving up all nuclear programs and accepting intrusive international inspections to prove his compliance. Given Kim Jong-il’s record of cheating, the American side is unlikely to be satisfied with cross-my-heart promises from Mr. Kim, even if he swears on the portrait of his father, North Korea’s dead “president for eternity.”
Still, doing a Qaddafi may be Mr. Kim’s last chance to come in from the Cold War before his Communist kingdom falls to rubble, and he may know that.
Seoul should be pushing for the most sweeping deal possible. Instead, it is being unhelpful by appearing to suggest that North Korea’s enriched-uranium program, the one the North denies having, but a Pakistani scientist has confessed to supplying, be left out of the deal for the time being, so that Mr. Kim will not “lose face.” How can there be a comprehensive resolution if North Korea is allowed to keep nuclear programs it prefers not to disclose?
Seoul’s diplomacy needs to be at its most creative just now, because it has a different stake in this game than the United States does. The nuclear issue is paramount for the rest of the world, but South Korea should be thinking of reunification.
Mesmerized by the fearful problems associated with reunification, Seoul appears to be making no plans for it. The South knows that it could not afford reunification, given the hordes of refugees that would be unleashed from the North. Kim Dae-jung’s sunshine policy was devised to postpone unification, for up to 20 years if necessary, until the North’s economic base is strengthened. The strategy, in other words, is to hope that Kim Jong-il’s grip does not fail.
But what if it does fail? Human events sometimes evolve glacially, as the sunshine policy prefers. But more often a burst dam sweeps away all the careful plans, as happened in Germany 15 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell at an unchosen time. Yet Seoul apparently has done little or no consultation with the UN High Commission for Refugees on how it might prepare for the problem.
It is said that the Chinese character for “crisis” combines the ideas of danger and opportunity. Seoul is shying from danger when it should be seizing opportunity. Reunification is not merely a sentimental yearning in Korean hearts. It is a sine qua non for future prosperity, if Korean politicians are serious about becoming the Hub of Northeast Asia.
Foreigners snicker at the idea that Korea could be the hub of anything bigger than itself, given the intensity of nationalist feelings here. But the real obstacle to the Hub-of-Asia plan is Korea’s division.
Just to the north of Seoul is a hole in Asia. It shows up pitch-black in nighttime satellite photography, because there is so little electricity. Seoul lacks road or rail access to Manchuria or Russia, because North Korea is in the way. When Russia, China, Japan and South Korea agreed to build a natural gas pipeline from Siberia, they decided to route it through the Yellow Sea, because they couldn’t build it across North Korea.
Reunification would impose calamitous burdens on South Korea, but every year that reunification is postponed, economic opportunities are bleeding away. And now South Korea’s economy faces a squeeze from the rise of low-wage China, which is sucking away foreign investment.
If South Korean capital and expertise could combine with low-cost North Korean labor, unified Korea would be in an unbeatable position. That won’t happen, though, as long as the South puts up with continued national division and seeks at every turn to mollify the touchy feelings of North Korea’s stand-patters.
Be bold. Tell Kim Jong-il that if he will do a Qaddafi, Seoul will offer reunification on basically his terms. That means we would call united Korea a “federation” instead of a “confederation,” or perhaps the other way around. I can never remember which is the North’s formula and which is the South’s, mainly because I don’t understand the practical difference. And Mr. Kim can have some such title as First Statesman of the Reborn Goryeo Union. He would be allowed to organize pageantry, with lovely cheerleaders and synchronized marching, but South Koreans would run the joint economy. Remind him that the alternative to doing a Qaddafi is collapse and ignominy.
If I were the unification minister, I would lie awake nights trying to devise a plan to unite the two countries, before the end of President Roh’s term.
* The writer is a communications professor at Yonsei University.
by Harold Piper