[OUTLOOK]Let’s settle the basics firstWe are currently undergoing extremely severe economic hardship, but there is one more serious difficulty. That is the social schizophrenia we show over North Korea. Not only individuals but the government as well swings from one end to the other on what North Korea is to us. If inter-Korean exchanges are going well and there are hopes for more changes, we think of North Koreans as the same Korean people. If we hear that a North Korean ship has breached the Northern Limit Line and fired at our naval ships, or that North Korea tries to spread the juche philosophy through the Internet, we feel enraged and hostile toward them. We want to help North Korea when we see pictures of starving North Korean people, but feel like we are being used when North Korea starts demanding things from us as if it had every right to do so. We shouldn’t be worrying about a war, but preventing war will not be a simple matter.
Should we concede to their threats of turning Seoul into a “sea of fire” or should we turn to the principle of “an eye for an eye?” Should we cajole Pyeongyang into change or promote the speedy collapse of the North Korean regime? These questions are enough to addle one’s brain.
What is even more serious is the fact that North Korea is not a separate issue on its own. How we view North Korea affects how we view our own domestic affairs. The debate over what to do with the National Security Act is a good example. Even media laws, laws about investigating the past and private school laws that seem to be unrelated to North Korea have in fact a tendency to be decided on how we view North Korea. Other policy decisions are also directly or indirectly decided based on our view of North Korea. With the situation standing as it is, if North Korea faces a major change such as a massive flow of escaping refugees or a nuclear crisis, we could be the first ones to feel the tremors.
The cause of this dilemma is of course in the double-sided characteristics of North Korea. North Korea is an enemy we must be wary of but at the same time an entity we must engage in conversation and cooperation. Up until the Kim Young-sam administration, we saw North Korea only as an enemy and did not admit this double-sided view. After the Kim Dae-jung administration came into power, we swerved to the opinion that North Korea was a partner in cooperation. But there was no consensus on whether North Korea had really changed so much as to deserve this change in our opinion. The progressive politicians emphasized the signs of change but the conservatives claimed that there were no actual changes. Strife abounded in our society because the government failed to win popular support for its North Korea policies. Another reason that social strife was aggravated was because of the government’s incomprehensible tolerance towards Pyeongyang. The government blamed our own Navy when North Korean ships crossed the Northern Limit Line and the defense minister was the first to insist that North Korea was no longer our main enemy. Now, the president has declared that North Korea has reasons to possess nuclear weapons for its defense. The president may say that he understands North Korea’s position on security, but he should also have said a word about our own security to reassure our own people. No wonder some people are worried that the government seems ready to hand over the country to North Korea.
There is nothing wrong with giving North Korea carrots if we stick together. The most important thing is for us to unite in our view of North Korea. We should adhere to the principle that foreign policy and national defense should be decided on a supra-partisan basis. The progressives and the conservatives can debate other issues without compromising the stability of our country. The North Korea issue should be placed on a high shelf after such a national consensus is reached so that our view of North Korea doesn’t get mixed up with other domestic affairs.
It is not difficult to reach such a consensus. Everyone just has to reaffirm the fact that communism is not what we want. There should also be a promise from the government that our security will be kept strong under any circumstances. In addition, we should say what we need to say to North Korea. There is no need to make the people nervous by seeming to court North Korea and despair at an unhappy word from them.
Why is the president, who brags about not being afraid of talking back to Washington, so hesitant about telling Pyeongyang, “You think your nuclear weapons are going to guarantee your regime but you’re wrong. Your nuclear program will only be the ruin of you. Don’t starve your people by spending all your money on nuclear weapons. Reform your human rights situation. We are ready to help you without any ulterior motives.” Why would South Koreans not trust and support a president who can say that?
We need to prepare ourselves for changes in North Korea. If we remain divided into pro-North Korea and anti-North Korea factions as we are now, we can never swim through this together. There will come a time when we just won’t be able to handle North Korea because of our schizophrenia. That is why we need to unite on a view of North Korea if nothing else. Otherwise we will fall into confusion before North Korea does.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk