[VIEWPOINT]Only trust breeds trustWe are still in the mist even after a week since explosions took place in the Gimhyeongjik county, North Korea.
Although loss of human life was not reported, unlike in the accident at the Yongcheon train station in April, the explosions have drawn far more attention because their cause and timing are dubious. It is unclear yet whether the blasts were for the most worrisome possibility, a nuclear test, an accidental explosion or, as North Korea claims, part of a construction project. What is clear is that North Korea’s belated explanation is not satisfactory and gives the impression that they are hiding something.
If North Korea hid something because it was ashamed of the fact that it suffered another large-scale accident in less than six months after the explosion in the Yongcheon station and that coincidentally fell on its “sacred” national foundation anniversary on Sept. 9, it might be no problem. But if the explosion and the mushroom-shaped cloud were the result of a nuclear test to confirm its nuclear capability domestically or to show off implicitly to the outside world, it would be a serious problem.
The problem is complicated because we are unsure whether we should consider the incident a message for the negotiations that compromise will not come easily in this situation, or whether North Korea aims to be recognized as a nuclear country like India and Pakistan.
If this incident was such a serious problem, South Korea and the United States should have shown a more positive attitude of closely cooperating to handle the problem from the outset. If only our people had been convinced that the two countries had already shared the necessary information with each other, they would have been less worried. It is said that the incident was revealed on Sept. 12 in Korea by a Chinese source, who was reportedly familiar with the North Korean situation.
When attention turned to the Ministry of Unification in haste after the rumor proved true, the government authorities answered that they had heard the news just then and were verifying it. This proved that they knew the new facts almost at the same time as reporters. The response the U.S. government showed then was mysterious, indeed. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said it was not a nuclear test. The moment the Korean government just came to know of the incident for the first time three days after its occurrence, the United States was talking about it as if a person who already had finished a survey were holding a briefing on the conclusions. On the next day, Christopher R. Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Korea, also said that the explosions were a simple accident, unrelated to North Korea’s nuclear programs and that specific causes were under investigation.
Why didn’t the United States inform Korea of the incident it had already known of? And at a point the truth of the incident should be completely, albeit belatedly, grasped and uncovered, is information sharing and communication between Korea and the United States being done smoothly?
Summing up the situation as of now, Korea handed over photo images it took to the United States, but there was no talk that the United States showed to our government its photo images, clearer than ours, taken by its satellites. The intelligence satellites and early warning satellites that the United States operates in the skies over the Korean Peninsula may already have a complete grasp of the situation at the accident site. But why does our government say that it needed take another photo to find out the situation when the weather cleared up because our Arirang 1 satellite could only take a blurry photo hampered by cloud cover?
Of course, it is beyond doubt that Korea and the United States have normally conducted activities in close cooperation. But a true alliance can come only from relationships where the two countries can talk freely with each other even when critical events or crises erupt. People usually confide their secret distress first to a truly close friend while just formally saying hello to someone not so close. Given that relations between countries are also established by people, a substantial part of the relations depends on psychological factors. So it is important to build trusting relationships consistently in daily life.
North Korea, which we used to embrace as the same nation, does not even talk with us when a sensitive situation breaks out, and China, which is likely to have known of the incident, did not even answer us. By examining the Korea-U.S. alliance from its fundamentals, our government should make efforts not to be isolated again so helplessly in sharing information.
At present, the Korea-United States alliance has many challenges everywhere. We eventually managed to send troops to Iraq, but without confidence after undergoing a far-too-difficult process. We have too weak a logic to reproach North Korea for its nuclear ambitions while helping that country.
We don’t have any agreed blueprint on how to promote U.S. military ties in the future while the U.S. troops stationed in Korea are rapidly being reduced. We should now build trust by putting actions before words. And the actions should breed confidence. When trust is accumulated, the two countries can talk more with each other.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Tae-hyo