[OUTLOOK]A friend after unificationAssuming the Korean Peninsula achieved a smooth unification, what strong power would be the most comfortable and indispensable friend to us? I think it is the United States. We should get along well with our neighboring countries such as China, Russia and Japan, of course, but the existence of strong countries that share borders with us or are separated by only a narrow channel would be burdensome.
These countries would also consider the unified Korean Peninsula an object of caution even if it is smaller than they are. On the other hand, the United States is located at a comfortable distance geopolitically from the Korean Peninsula. Amity with the United States will be an essential condition for the unified Korean Peninsula to play its proper role in Northeast Asia.
If the status of the Northeast Asian region is enhanced in the areas of economics and culture and if the United States’ influence relatively decreases, the importance of our exchange with the United States is unlikely to be reduced. On the contrary, not until then can we escape from unequal trade or unilateral dissemination and make all the results of our exchange our nourishment.
But all of this would be possible when we accomplish a smooth unification, or at least when we form a South-North confederation as a critical midpoint toward unification. How could there be no conflict until we reach this grand goal? Whether it is between South Korea and the United States or inside the South, we would have to undergo conflict for a certain period, and we could hardly expect the period to be very short.
But once we share the goal of “long-term pro-American relations,” couldn’t it be possible to reduce unnecessary conflict? For instance, some people argue for unconditional submission to the requests of the United States, saying, “How on earth could we live without the United States?” But if we can convince them that such a fear would be more harmful than useful to friendly relations with the United States on a long-term basis, the confrontational atmosphere could loosen noticeably.
The diagnosis of those who think it would be difficult to live alone immediately when we are completely separated from the United States is right, and the goal of those who wish to get along well with the United States all the time is also understandable, ultimately. The only problem is how to connect the diagnosis to the goal.
We should not forget that we cannot have a genuine amity even if we cling to the United States in tears, however gracious the country might be, and that the United States of today is different from that of the Cold War.
Even during the Cold War period, the country was not always kind and generous, but it knew how to administer hospitality to its allies and how to give a plausible cause while making a profit of its own. Although it did things that it shouldn’t have done on the Korean Peninsula, such as instigating the division of Korea and supporting the dictatorships, the United States had some justification of protecting South Korea and helping the Korean economy.
But what is it like today? When the Cold War between the East and the West is over and, albeit belatedly, inter-Korean exchange is about to progress in earnest, the United States declares that it would not refrain from launching a preemptive attack against North Korea under the pretext of the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.
The country now became a suspicious being even from the standards of “security and economy.” What security could it be to us if the United States turns the Korean Peninsula to ashes in return for preventing the North’s nuclear armament? If the United States keeps the situation tense, if not wage a war, its economy may remain intact, but what would become of the Korean stock market, and when could Korea become a logistics hub of Northeast Asia?
Anti-American sentiment has rapidly spread in recent years not just because the post-war generation, which does not know the Korean War, became the majority, but because the United States’ unilateralism, which intensified particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, even began to threaten the vested interests.
If “anti-American” means opposing this American policy and criticizing the American society which condones such a policy, my opinion is that we are further required to have such an “anti-American” sentiment. This is a requirement we should meet to pursue “long-term pro-American relations” with confidence.
If that is the case, we should also know how to distance ourselves from the near-sightedness that recklessly sees the United States as evil or the rashness that underestimates the realistic power of the country. This is essential training for those who want to build a good human society on the Korean Peninsula. Leading our relations with the United States, for all its accumulated vices and benefits, to truly good relations will also be a critical test to measure our level of training.
* The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University and the editor-in-chief of the quarterly magazine Changjak-kwa-bipyong, or Creation and Criticism. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Paik Nak-chung