[OUTLOOK]President Roh’s bitter medicineDuring his visit to Germany, President Roh Moo-hyun said he would have to make bitter comments and arguments at times regarding inter-Korean relations. His remarks were timely at a point when there are rising concerns over the North Korean nuclear crisis as well as deadlocked inter-Korean relations.
Compared to his appeasing remarks toward North Korea during his visit to Los Angeles last year, the president seems to have changed his view of the North Korean regime. He pointed out the North was responsible for the damage to the mutual trust between the two Koreas.
This includes the North’s violation of the joint declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the delay of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s return visit to Seoul. On the other hand, he advised that the six-nation talks were the only breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear issue.
He said the best policy on North Korea is to pursue Chinese- and Vietnamese-style reform and the opening up of the country after the resolution of the nuclear problem. These remarks can be considered very “bitter” advice.
A Korean saying goes “Bitter medicine is good for the body.” The bitter advice should not be a poisonous herb but a wholesome one if it is to help the body. President Roh sharply pointed out North Korea’s wrong behavior but at the same time he did not forget to add words of “sweet temptation” ― that South Korea would provide active support for the reconstruction of the North Korean economy but not disrupt the country’s stability.
Of course, large-scale support has strings attached. The North Korean nuclear problem should first be resolved. But his “bitter advice” may cause misunderstanding, depending on the interpretation. Although he gave bitter medicine, he might continue to give “meat and alcohol” ― bad for the body ― when others do not see.
After President Roh’s remarks in Germany, government authorities reportedly began to head off any backlash. They said the president’s bitter comments are just his usual thoughts expressed in private meetings, so a great significance should not be put on them.
Whether his bitter remarks have true medicinal effects is a matter of time. North Korea also knows that “bitter advice” is good for the body. On April 8, North Korea announced that it took nationwide preventive measures against the spread of avian flu. In the outbreak area, it “burned and buried chickens infected with the bird flu.” The country added that it was also confirming the bird flu outbreak jointly with experts dispatched from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
It was unprecedented that the North Korean authorities publicly acknowledged the outbreak of avian flu and asked the international community for aid. It was the country’s own decision to reveal its weakness in epidemic prevention and accept the bitter remedy of incinerating a huge number of chickens.
North Korea is also highly likely to be disciplined by FIFA, the international football association, for its fan’s violent protest against the referee in its 2006 World Cup-Germany qualifier against Iran in the Asian regional tournament held in Pyongyang on March 30.
It’s possible that FIFA will take strong punitive action: No fans may be allowed to attend the game between North Korea and Japan slated for June 8 in Pyongyang or the game may be played in a third country.
FIFA has applied the game rules very strictly regardless of mistakes by a referee. North Korea, that has either ignored or is ignorant of these international standards, will have to accept this bitter experience. If North Korea takes this opportunity to become a member of the international community and shows a mature and refined attitude, “bitter medicine” will turn out to be beneficial for the country.
If it is to become beneficial medicine for North Korea, President Roh’s bitter advice should take the form of a concrete specific policy.
As Mr. Roh mentioned, the government should point out North Korea’s violation of the agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the six-nation talks and put a brake on its policies that are far from reform.
The administration should also make sure that the food and fertilizer aid we provide are mainly supplied to help relieve North Korean people’s hunger.
When the UN Human Rights Commission deals with a resolution on North Korean human rights, South Korea should make bitter comments on the North’s human rights infringements and participate in the UN’s effort to improve the situation in the North.
Our bitter advice will become truly beneficial medicine that can improve North Koreans’ human rights conditions.
The president should learn a lesson from the unification of Germany that proved “bitter medicine is good medicine” and make every effort to carry out an appropriate policy.
* The writer is a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoo Ho-yeol