[OUTLOOK]Reunification and progressEveryone wants sustained development for his homeland. But even though a country might be everlasting, its shape and substance will constantly change in accordance with the flow of history. So any nation on earth will inevitably have to adjust its structure and standards to the situation and demands of the times.
Making choices that determine the fate of a nation ― getting accustomed to the evolution of scientific and technological advancements and changing international dynamics, for example ― are essential conditions for survival for every country.
Korea and its neighbors are no exceptions.
When Japanese people discuss their national characteristics and direction, they often use a special term, translated as an “ordinary state.”
Japan diagnoses itself as a special, extraordinary country that has to stay under the protection of the United States due to the constitutional restriction that forbids the possession of military force even though it is the second largest economy in the world.
So the Japanese hope to someday become an “ordinary state” that is equipped with the same accoutrements and capabilities, including a military, as other countries. After losing World War II, Japan had agreed to include a clause in its constitution that declared, “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
But half a century later, Japanese argue that they should reconsider how realistic the pacifist promise was.
Of course, Japan’s transformation to an ordinary state would not mean returning to an imperial Japan. But we need to pay attention to what would be the substance of the ordinary state that Japan wants to be, and how Tokyo would rearrange its relationships with its neighbors.
In fact, there is another neighbor of Korea that can hardly be considered ordinary. That is China. Its 1.3 billion population, more than 20 percent of the world’s population, means that China cannot be categorized as an ordinary state.
It is already an old story that China thought it a miracle to have its 1.3 billion people well-fed. For more than a decade, China has continued to grow rapidly and has established itself as the new international economic giant.
China is still a socialist country under the rule of the Communist Party. But Beijing chose to open up drastically and accept the principles of a market economy, and the country has displayed an astonishing rate of development as a result.
But it is not easy to see the detailed future that Beijing is planning. Its opening has brought an expansion of its civil culture, and economic development widened the gap between the rich and the poor.
Combining communist rule with such changes will not be an easy task.
In contrast, North Korea is a self-professed extraordinary country. At an international conference, North Korea was asked why they could not behave like an ordinary country. The North Korean representative had a clear answer. He said, “North Korea is not an ordinary country, it is a special country. We are still waging a liberation campaign against the imperialistic powers. North Korea is different from ordinary countries in a peaceful environment because it is struggling to free the country from the occupation of the United States.”
Being in a state of war, Pyeongyang cannot pursue an opening, and the citizens’ welfare has to be sacrificed for the greater cause. North Korea’s “extraordinariness” by choice explains Pyeongyang’s limited participation in the regional discussions on mutual interests, such as creating a Northeast Asian community.
In retrospect, the path the Republic of Korea has walked was hardly ordinary either. We went through many vicissitudes for the sake of industrialization and democratization, and paid an unimaginable price. But as we know that the road ahead of us is still long and rough, we should not take too much pride in past successes, nor be deterred by today’s troubles. We must have an attitude of holding on to our national grace and class. Let’s not be engrossed by tedious quarrels and a chaotic atmosphere. We should always keep the vision set on the milestones for the creation of a unified Korean community.
The year 2005 is the 60th anniversary of the division of the peninsula, and 2010 is the centennial of the painful history of Japanese annexation.
More than repenting of history or yearning for the future, we need to roll up our sleeves and reach a national consensus on the methods, order and speed at which we would reinvent Korea.
The last century was tainted with 35 years as a colony and 65 years as a divided nation. Let’s put a period on the hundred years of drifting and complete the construction of an independent, unified state.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo