[OUTLOOK]What to do before the summitsWhen the Korean president attended the 60th anniversary of World War II Victory Day in Russia on May 9 and had a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao, many Koreans must have been bursting with pride.
Looking back on the Korea that existed in May 1945, our stature was very different. After 35 years under Japanese colonization, the entire nation, not to mention the workers, laborers and sex slaves that were drafted during the war by imperial Japan, was so lost and exhausted that our country’s future was left dangling until the post-war period.
Exactly 60 years later, the president of the Republic of Korea stood shoulder to shoulder with the heads of former allies and proudly attended the V-Day celebration. The scene refreshed the pride South Koreans have for their country.
In late June, the South Korea-U.S. summit and the South Korea-Japan summit are scheduled one after another. Considering the tension surrounding the North Korean nuclear program, it is only natural that the South Koreans have a vested interest in the summits.
Evidently, the results of the summit meetings are more important than formalities. Depending on the outcome, we could have a breakthrough development in the crisis on the Korean Peninsula and further establish a stable balance of power in Northeast Asia. At this important juncture, South Koreans need to calmly contemplate the current circumstances and review our position.
First, if we fail to clearly put forward our position, unnecessary misunderstanding and confusion could occur at home and abroad. Impromptu responses to circumstances or adjusting our stance depending on the dialogue partner is understandable if it is seen as a tactic or diplomatic technique.
However, these tactics or diplomatic techniques cannot offset or cover up the lack of consistent principles and strategies. Therefore, the most urgent task in the upcoming summits is to have clear and reliable communication with partners so that two of South Korea’s closest allies can accurately understand South Korea’s position.
Secondly, it’s about time we reconfirm the goals we want to pursue and the price we are willing to pay to attain these goals. What is South Korea’s position toward the United States? So far, we have made the prevention of another war on the Korean Peninsula the top priority. That’s why Seoul hopes Washington will make as many concessions as possible to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. In some cases, we are willing to accept bilateral negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang that exclude South Korea. If the United States does not agree with South Korea’s position, then the nature of the South Korea-U.S. alliance has to be reconsidered.
How do South Koreans feel about the North, then? We respect the principle of the coexistence of two Koreas for the construction of a community of Koreans and we oppose the threat to the existence of the North Korean system.
However, we do not tolerate North Korea’s nuclear possession in any case. If Pyongyang still tries to create nuclear weapons and threatens to start a war despite the international community’s promise to guarantee North Korea’s security, then South Korea will risk even a war to deter Pyongyang. The South Koreans firmly believe that the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, made before the nation by the late Kim Il Sung and us, the South Koreans, is the best security guarantee for the 70 million citizens of the two Koreas.
Thirdly, if South Korea were to risk an extreme modification of the Korea-U.S. alliance or a war with the North, a national consensus must absolutely come first. After all, the ultimate entity that pays the price is not the government or the leaders but the citizens, and a policy without the understanding and support of the citizens is fundamentally improper and powerless. Therefore, the government needs to do its best to gather the will, wishes and wisdom from its citizens in the short time remaining before the meetings.
If we keep in mind that the historic task given to us is not about the security of the governments either in the North or in the South but the security of the nation, we are sure to have a breakthrough in securing the survival of our nation.
It is inevitable for any national leader to exit the stage of history once he has made an appearance. However, a nation and the people should be forever. Today, the leaders of both the South and the North should ruminate over the simple principle of history.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo