[GLOBAL EYE]Pursue harmony of fire and water

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[GLOBAL EYE]Pursue harmony of fire and water

The Chinese expression “Fire burns upward and water flows down,” illustrating division and conflict and selected as the phrase of the year by a newspaper, makes us think of many things in the diplomatic area as well. This is because diplomacy is the extension of domestic administration and domestic politics is the basis that supports foreign relations. It would be rather strange if foreign affairs went well when based on domestic politics where there were division and conflict, like fire burning upward and water flowing down.
Confusion is being created even among government departments over whether the North Korean problem is an internal issue or an international issue. And the gap of understanding among South Koreans over whether to emphasize inter-Korean cooperation or international alli-ances has deepened. If 80 percent of Korean diplomacy consists of its relations with the United States and Japan, Korea’s diplomacy at present is like a shop that is open but does no business.
The two allies, South Korea and the United States, have different views of North Korea, and the two countries, South Korea and Japan, are going their own ways as if laughing at this Korea-Japan Friendship Year. North Korea still clings to the nuclear weapons program and light water reactors, and South Korea stakes its fate on the Kaesong Industrial Complex, embracing North Korea with the theory that economic cooperation ensures peace on the peninsula. With each party in discord, there is no communication at all. How else can this situation be described if not as “like fire burning upward and water flowing down?”
The North Korean nuclear crisis, on which the fate of the Korean Peninsula depended in 2005, was resolved temporarily with the agreement at the fourth round of six-party talks in September, but it is falling again into a labyrinth. The United States has accelerated pressure on North Korea in the non-military area, such as human rights conditions, counterfeiting and drug smuggling, while North Korea says it has no reason to resume the talks unless the United States cancels financial sanctions.
Inter-Korean ministerial talks clearly revealed their limitations as far as a resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem was concerned. The result of the recent inter-Korean ministerial meetings on Jeju island was mere rhetoric whereby participants agreed that, for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the joint statement of the six-party talks should be implemented soon. Nevertheless, the South Korean government’s advocacy of the North, regarding the problem of counterfeit notes following the human rights issue, reminds us of “fire burning upward.”
In the reality in which dollar capitalism still underpins the world’s economy, how can the counterfeit issue be a problem between the United States and North Korea alone? It is absurd for our government authorities to state that the counterfeit problem should be handled separately between North Korea and the United States because the issue impedes negotiations on the North Korean nuclear problem.
The United States bitterly complains that South Korea should stop playing the role of a defender of North Korea, saying, “Any person or group that protects a criminal group is no longer a friend but a member of the criminals.” As such, the United States is like water flowing down in a pond, while South Korea is like the fire burning upward.
We tactlessly opened our hearts, saying we would no longer question Japan’s past wrongdoings but then drove the situation to the point of suspending relations between the two governments, blaming the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni shrine. This is definitely a strategic mistake in our diplomacy toward Japan.
In today’s South Korea-Japan relations, private exchanges are far broader than, and ahead of, those of the public sector. This is to say that the government’s diplomacy falls far behind reality.
To Japan, our government advocates “a policy based on the universal way of mankind” but turns away from the human rights problems in North Korea, which is the most universal value of mankind, on the pretext of the special characteristics of inter-Korean relations. This is also a conflicting attitude toward foreign policy.
Korean diplomacy should take the lead in respecting and practicing international norms as it aims at multilateral diplomacy. Our country should not be considered a “backward country in terms of human rights” or a “protector of a criminals.” Without the solid basis of bilateral diplomacy, multilateral diplomacy can be a mere castle in the sand and Korea could be estranged from the international community.
Diplomacy is a reality and realism is its life. We should give up on the argument of justification and ideology and also overcome the dichotomous thinking of the 19th century about foreign forces and self-reliance, and unification and anti-unification. If pro-Americanism is conservatism, so is anti-Americanism.
We urgently need a diplomacy of harmony that can combine “water” and “fire” and open a new knowledge-based and culture- and environment-friendly Korea, through independent globalization.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the Joongang Ilbo.

by Byun Sang-keun
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