[TODAY]Korea’s problem is also Asia’s

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[TODAY]Korea’s problem is also Asia’s

The North Koreans came like a rising tide and went away like an ebbing tide after leaving a strong impression in the hearts of many South Koreans with their exceptional behavior. The scenes of North Koreans paying their respects at the National Cemetery in Dongjak-dong, visiting the National Assembly and singing the old popular song, “The Moonlight of Silla,” together with their southern hosts at Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Kingdom, all these seem like things that happened in a surreal world over the horizon.
It was as if they were not the same people who tried to negotiate directly with the United States, while leaving South Korea out. It was as if the historic inter-Korean summit held in June 2000 was being replayed.
Putting the concept of one nation before anything else heats up the atmosphere. For a people who have lived a history filled with grief, it gets more heated up. It was not a surprise that the atmosphere of the meeting, where the representatives of laborers from both Koreas got together, has turned, under the initiative of the southern representatives, to the direction of driving away U.S. forces in South Korea with the unified force of the South and North Korean laborers.
How far can we go if we are united “among Koreans?” People who attended the grand national festival shouted out that Koreans, as one nation, can get rid of the threats of a nuclear war and achieve unification among themselves. Although we can say such things in the heat of the festival, the international circumstances surrounding the Korean Peninsula tell us that, if nationalism gets stronger, the chances of unification grows that much smaller.
Obviously, the United States and Japan must have paid attention to the grand national festival of the two Koreas. If the United States and Japan get suspicions of excessive cooperation between the two Koreas, the position of South Korea in the six-party talks becomes weaker. And such suspicions have already been hinted at in the New York Times.
There are various interpretations on the startling behavior of the North Korean delegates. Some say that North Korea is truly changing, while some others say that it is a peace offensive through which the North tries to win over public opinion in the South, so that President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration will support North Korea’s position at the six-party talks and help them to get more economic aid.
However, no matter what their intentions may be, it is a fact that the North Koreans paid homage to the National Cemetery and sang an old South Korean popular song in Gyeongju. Based on these facts, what we need now is preventing the festival from becoming a narrow-minded and cliquish nationalist event.
The festival must promote inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation greatly so that it in turn can play an essential role in solving the problem of the Korean Peninsula comprehensively.
Whether we like it or not, the problems of the Korean Peninsula, including the North Korean nuclear crisis and negotiations for peace with the North, are the problems of Northeast Asia. If, for instance, the nuclear crisis is not resolved and instead gets worse, we will see the limit in doing things “among Koreans.”
If the North Korean nuclear crisis gets worse with the transfer of the issue to the UN Security Council or expansion of a blockade and economic sanctions on North Korea, this will result in conflict between South Korea and the United States and the suspension of all inter-Korean cooperation projects, including the operation of the Kaesong industrial complex and tourism projects to Mount Kumgang and Mount Baektu. And the hysterical reaction of the North will bring a time of crisis to the Korean Peninsual once again.
The joint Sino-Russian military training in the Yellow Sea, which started the day after the national festival ended, wakes us up to the reality that the problems of the Korean Peninsula are Northeast Asian problems. The long-term goal of the Sino-Russian military maneuvering is probably to deter the domination of Northeast Asia by the joint forces of the United States and Japan.
However, the short-term goal seems to be in proclaiming that China and Russia have the direct interest and right to have a say on what’s going on within the Korean Peninsula. The two countries may not want the United States to play the leading role in solving the problems of the Korean Peninsula, nor do they want South and North Korea to solve their problems among themselves.
It will do more harm than good if the slogan “among Koreans” is seen as anti-U.S. and anti-Japan unification efforts by both Koreas. When one means to say that foreign powers should be excluded, he shouldn’t specify any particular country but speak in general terms.
China and Russia are also foreign powers, no less different from the United States and Japan. The problem of the national festival was that some participants lost their reason and tended to show excessive nationalistic emotion. It is regrettable, but the problem of the Korean Peninsula is not one that we can solve on our own. In that sense, President Roh should have mentioned the situation of Northeast Asia in his Liberation Day speech.
With the concept “among Koreans,” we cannot bring peace on the Korean Peninsula, which will be the precondition for initiating peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. The concept of “one nation,” which can either be good or bad depending on how it is used, has played an important role of confirming that reconciliation and cooperation are better than confrontation and conflict through two inter-Korean festivals in June and last week. Now is the time to broaden our horizon beyond the nation and see Northeast Asia and the world.

* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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