[OUTLOOK]Crying ‘Dokdo,’ and making plans

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[OUTLOOK]Crying ‘Dokdo,’ and making plans

After President Roh Moo-hyun’s recent remarks about Japan’s past wrongs against Korea and the question of additional compensation, I wrote that he shouldn’t raise historical issues, and should instead take a more appropriate view of the Dokdo problem. Though it may not have been because of my writing, the government did come up with many measures, along with a clear statement of its position, and the people’s resentment of Japan’s unreasonable behavior has spread.
But the Dokdo problem has me concerned again. Why should I be worried, now that tourists are rushing to visit Dokdo and the government has offered various measures to make use of it, as I suggested? Readers may reproach me: “What makes you so cranky that you’re trying to find fault with the Dokdo issue again?”
To put it directly, I have come to suspect that the government is attempting to take advantage of the Dokdo problem for other purposes. Since Dokdo is our land, all we have to do is take good care of it. We don’t need to be concerned, as we have been in the past, about being unable to read Japan’s intentions.
But the president delivered a direct attack on Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi over the issue, and he was joined by our foreign minister. The government is bringing more attention to the Dokdo problem than is necessary. Why? Does it intend to permanently sever relations with Japan? We have much to lose if that’s the case, and because of this, I’ve been unable to understand the government’s overly hostile attitude toward Japan. This is why I’ve come to doubt the government.
At the same time that the administration adopted a hard-line attitude on Dokdo, it was arguing for a national role as a balancer of power in Northeast Asia. Since President Roh’s remarks to that effect at the Air Force Academy’s commencement ceremony, government officials have been offering up such unfamiliar concepts as “alliance with a northern triangle” and “alliance with a southern triangle.” They say the alliance between Korea, the United States and Japan is based on “confrontational thinking” about the region. Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan demands that we “escape from a way of thinking that blockades the continent.”
What does this mean? Does it mean we should not participate in a geopolitical structure based on enmity with China and Russia? If that is indeed the argument, we can understand. We do not need to hold a grudge against those two powers, particularly China, which is the most important country for our economy, since we export more to it than we do to the United States.
Why, then, does the government talk about concepts like “balancer of power,” “alliance with a northern triangle” and “alliance with a southern triangle,” when it could simply say that it’s best to get along well with these countries?
In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with the argument for playing the role of a “balancer.” It is indeed the path we should follow. Surrounded by China, Russia and Japan, Korea has historically been vied for by those three powers. The “balancer” argument is a policy of maintaining peace through our role as an impartial mediator when those three powers are in conflict. Who could question such a policy?
But the problem is that in choosing this moment to talk about it, the government does not even mention the existence of North Korea. If we are to decide the balance of power, what is the role of North Korea? Would the North be on our side, or on the other side? When their critical interests are at stake, how would China and Russia treat North and South Korea, respectively? These government officials offer no explanation for that.
The idea of Korea deciding the balance of power in Northeast Asia is a dream. I believe the dream will come true someday, but not now. There are steps to be taken first.
First, we should resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Next, we should achieve reunification. Only after reunification can we talk of affecting the regional balance of power. Don’t you think other countries laugh at us for fancying ourselves in such a role, when we are a divided country that’s unable to solve the nuclear problem on our own peninsula?
So why does the government keep pressing the idea, despite all this? What could be the hidden story behind the argument?
I don’t know whether it is a coincidence or not, but the anti-Japanese winds being felt here are also blowing in China, over the issues of Japan’s wartime aggression and the Taiwan problem. Even North Korea has made statements decrying Japanese participation in the six-party nuclear talks.
That being so, hasn’t the longstanding security structure between South Korea, the United States and Japan have already begun to collapse, because of Japan? In the long run, won’t China, North Korea and South Korea all be on the same side against Japan, because of its history? Isn’t this the hidden story?
Seen in this way, the government’s exaggerated response to the Dokdo problem becomes easier to understand. Isn’t the government starting the process of choosing up sides, and capitalizing on the momentum coming from heightened anti-Japanese sentiment?
Just as in the ancient saying, “Shout in the east, but attack in the west,” the government may be shouting about Dokdo while thinking about which of the new geopolitical teams it wants to join. This is why I am concerned about the degeneration of the Dokdo issue. At this very moment, as I write this article, the broadcast media is reporting that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked all of its officials to study the history of Japanese aggression.

* The writer is the editor of the JoongAng Ilbo’s editorial page.


by Moon Chang-keuk
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