[VIEWPOINT]Rethinking the idea of borders

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[VIEWPOINT]Rethinking the idea of borders

I have read an interesting article in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wybor-cza. The newspaper criticized the Polish parliament for approving the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic without first completing strict technological and environmental evaluations. I wondered why the Czech Republic needed the approval of the Polish parliament when it was building a nuclear power plant to supply energy in its own territory with its own funds. I found out later that the Czech nuclear power plant project required approval not just from the Polish parliament but also from those of the adjacent nations, Slovakia and Hungary.
Then I realized that the country that suffered the most from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster was not Ukraine, where the power plant was located, but neighboring Belarus. Most regions in Ukraine were safe from the radioactive pollution, but because of the direction of the wind, about one-third of Belarus was seriously affected, resulting in catastrophic contamination.
In Eastern Europe, where small nations are clustered together, the presence of a nuclear power plant is a matter of safety for the entire region, beyond the sovereignty of the individual nation. In this case, the principle of national sovereignty defined by the modern international order no longer holds as the ultimate universal truth. The Czech Republic’s nuclear power plant project can only be made possible with the approval of neighbors, and it means that the sovereignty of the Czech Republic can be restricted for the sake of the interests of the entire region.
Containing heavy metal particles, the yellow dust blowing from China raids the Korean Peninsula in the spring. Accelerating desertification by excessive logging or releasing pollutants under the banner of modernization are matters of Chinese sovereignty as long as it happens within the boundaries of the People’s Republic of China. However, the heavy-metal dust from China and maritime pollution caused by the nuclear power plants situated near the Yellow and East Seas can no longer be entrusted to the decision of individual countries but should be treated as mutual problems in East Asia.
Of course, for the nations that have experienced colonization or foreign rule, sovereignty is still a holy and inviolable principle. The doctrine of limited sovereignty had been used as a theoretical justification for the Warsaw Pact forces to invade Prague in 1968. More recently, the Bush Administration reasoned that its military strike on Iraq was to protect the universal value of human rights, which transcended national sovereignty. The doctrine of limited sovereignty has been used as a theoretical base for imperialism.
Along with the principle of divine and inviolable national sovereignty, the concept of “native territory” is deeply rooted in the conscience of the East Asians, serving as a theoretical bulwark against imperialism. How-ever, as long as the citizens of Korea and Japan feel the pain of losing a limb if they lose tiny islands in the high seas between the two countries, there is no future for a citizens’ solidarity in East Asia to handle mutual problems.
From the perspective of the solidarity of the East Asia, we need a fresh mindset that goes beyond the imperialistic doctrine of limited sovereignty and the opposite principle of inviolable national sovereignty. In this context, criticizing the mythological understanding of history and raising questions regarding “border history” are valid. The problem is that a change in perception cannot occur overnight.
First of all, we would need an international agreement acknowledging the existing border of each East Asian nation according to international law. Right after World War II, Germany gave up the portion of East Prussian territory annexed to Poland for good, and in return, Poland gave up its traditional cultural centers in its border region, such as Vilnius and Lviv.
If we respond to mutual problems together and build trust based on an international agreement, someday we will look back on the Tokdo dispute, controversy over the Japanese history textbooks and the Chinese claim that Goguryeo was part of China with a smile. At the end of the day, the border will have a completely different meaning.

* The writer is a professor of history at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lim Jie-hyun
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