[VIEWPOINT]But everything is not ‘okay’On June 15, 2000, he appeared in the middle of the line of people who were welcoming the aging South Korean president, who turned his head slightly toward the south before walking down the airplane steps at the Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was that man in the line, the one who rules North Korea with an iron fist and was rumored to have a strong paranoid disposition. The highest power of the North, with a face and sturdy build exactly like his father’s, came to meet President Kim Dae-jung.
The meeting place was already a historical stage for the festivity of reconciliation. Citizens of South Korea, who were already determined to be impressed, were completely impressed with the North Korean leader.
His unrestrained attitude was displayed at the dinner that day. He shouted over a glassful of wine, “Bottoms up!” All the suggestions South Korean delegates anxiously and carefully made were accepted with an “Okay!”
Mr. Kim’s consistent “okay” was given again recently after five years. On the night of July 16, a day after a South Korean delegation’s visit to North Korea, came a glad message to the delegates who were anxiously looking forward to an interview with him. Unification Minister Chung Dong-young probably stayed up all night to prepare.
The next day, an interview with Mr. Kim was held as he wished, and 12 proposals he had contemplated were suggested. Mr. Kim’s response was, of course, “okay.” This was the moment when Minister Chung recorded an achievement after a year of worry.
At the luncheon that day, more hilarious suggestions were made. His notable remarks included: “Shall I call President Bush his Excellency?” “Declaration of denuclearization was father’s last instruction,” “regime security within a multi-party framework is also good” and “I will accept IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection if our regime is acknowledged.” His answers came so easily that we wondered why we had been so worried for years.
His open attitude may be attributed to the unrestricted environment in which he was groomed as a successor, but he may also have overly responded to guests who came with a huge amount of cash and gifts necessary for his rule. He could have welcomed with open arms a bold politician who transferred $100 million to his account, or he may have been so overjoyed as to wish to drink wine by the bottle rather than the glass.
This time, South Korea says it will provide 2 million kilowatts of electricity. What brotherly love and a humane favor this is, he may have thought. Two million kilowatts of electricity are said to amount to about 1.5 trillion won, so even three cheers may not have been enough to display his mirth this time, saying: “Video reunion of separate families? That’s a fantastic idea!” and, “Why did you make a detour? You should have come directly.”
Of course, a “significant proposal” may have been offered before or afterward, but Mr. Kim may have instinctively noted that something would follow after giving his “okay.”
Enraptured over Mr. Kim’s “okays,” the people of South Korea let out a sigh of relief, and past administrations could not hide their excitement, just like Mr. Chung could not when he reported the results of his visit to North Korea. Probably because of this, no one cares where the $100 million came from and how the money was used.
As it was money with no strings attached, there is no telling whether it was used to buy foreign-made cars for high-ranking party members and power holders at the State Security Department, or to expand the entertaining team for Mr. Kim, or to buy raw materials for nuclear weapons.
Compared to the cash transfer, the proposal to supply electricity sounds more reasonable. Factories would resume operations, lights would be turned on in North Koreans’ houses and the communication network connected to the outside world would work, even if intermittently.
If North Korean representatives receiving a calculated order from Mr. Kim behave intractably in the six-party talks that will resume soon, the electric switch may be turned off. But things that will cause the switch to be turned off will not happen. The South Korean government, whose fate changes depending on Mr. Kim’s unrestrained attitude, would not have the guts to do so.
At a point when economic cooperation is achieved with difficulty, when inter-Korean maritime talks and Red Cross talks are approaching, and when the South Korean government begs the North to keep its promise to send a delegation to celebrate our Independence Day on Aug. 15, the government may think, how could it begrudge 500,000 sacks of rice and 1 million tons of fertilizer in aid? For the governing Uri Party, everything will be okay if Mr. Kim meets the president right before the next presidential election.
In fact, it would be safer and better to give unconditionally rather than wait for the North to collapse by itself or to wage a war. But we need to listen to Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, who said, “South Korea’s effort to continuously give more could be an obstacle to the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem at a certain point.”
Despite his fluent and unreserved answers, Mr. Kim’s real intention lies in a forced attack. When his intention must be to control internal resistance and division by confirming that “nuclear weapons are our very lifeline,” it is not a pleasant thing to see the South Korean government excited about him proposing a toast.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Ho-keun
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?