[GLOBAL EYE]A new kind of Northeast AsiaAt the 15th inter-Korean ministerial meeting in Seoul last week, the first such meeting in a long time, Seoul and Pyongyang reached a few cardinal agreements paving the way for future meetings between the Koreas, including the one to be held on Mount Paektu on Sept. 13.
Although much of the enthusiasum and passion that gripped the Korean Peninsula at the time of the first ministerial meeting had faded, this ministerial meeting can be said to have completely resolved the concerns over one crisis theory: the ungrounded fears of a “June crisis,” which made the tension on the peninsula worse. Therefore, the talks also demonstrated that if we try a bit harder, the two Koreas can take systemic cooperation to a new level.
Some radical Japanese and American analysts have been promoting a catastrophic situation on the peninsula by emphasizing the bellicose nature of the North Korean regime; these analysts favor a hard-line approach to North Korea, including economic sanctions. They condemn those who favor cooperation and the pursuit of peace, but more often than not, reality demonstrates that it is the hard-liners who are unrealistic.
Leaving aside the question of how successful blockades of Cuba and Iran have been, it is a solemn reality that the U.S. economic and political “blockade” of the Chinese border region led to excessive Chinese influence in places like Myanmar.
Moreover, the North Korean economy is being rapidly encroached upon by Chinese capital, and consequently North Korea has virtually become one of China’s northeastern provinces. In the mid- or long-term perspective, the growing economic influence that China has over North Korea could have results that capitalist forces in Northeast Asia and South Korea should not overlook.
Historically, there are countless examples of countries sharing borders with hostile nations. Not every example resulted in a substantial war or conflict. From its history of discord and trouble, mankind has learned the value of cooperation and coexistence. A fire doesn’t start just because a lighter and a piece of paper are in proximity to each other. Someone has to strike the lighter, and the paper has to be put into the flame.
The nature of the North Korean regime is not the only element aggravating instability in Northeast Asia today. The backward perspective on modern history demonstrated by Japan’s political leaders is an obstacle to the region’s dynamic integration, and the diplomatic skills of China have yet to catch up with the speed of their economic development.
While paying attention to North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and human rights violations, Northeast Asia and the world also need to endeavor to correct Japan’s misconceptions about the past. Similarly, we in South Korea should not merely fret about China overtaking us, but should also consider cooperating with China so it can fulfill the political and diplomatic duties incumbent upon an economic power of its size, and so that its exercise of power can have positive effects.
A balance of power, in and of itself, does not guarantee stability or peace. Neither does vanity about peace, or the lazy assumption that the next crisis will be similar to the last one. The Northeast Asia of the 21st century is different from that of the 20th century in that its tolerance for war is considerably lower; there is a consensus that the benefits of coexistence and cooperation far exceed the gains to be had from a war.
As Winston Churchill said in recalling the international situation after World War I, the world will be at risk if nations are not satisfied with material prosperity and follow the path of domestic and international struggle.
Last month’s summit meetings in Moscow between South Korea and Russia and South Korea and China, and this month’s summits between South Korea and the United States and South Korea and Japan, weakened and countered the influence of those who were amplifying the groundless fear of a “June crisis,” and defused the tension over the nuclear issue.
It is very significant that June on the peninsula has ended with the ministerial talks, which offered a chance to demonstrate the capabilities of Koreans.
* The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan