[OUTLOOK]Leave North out of electionsPresident Roh Moo-hyun said that the Korean government did not agree with the opinions of some Americans who raised issues over the North Korean regime and sometimes seemed to want its collapse, and warned that if the United States continued to pressure Pyongyang, there would be friction between Seoul and Washington. Because of the threat posed by North Korea, Seoul has made a military alliance with the United States, and U.S. forces are stationed in the South. It is such an irony that the president of South Korea has warned its ally not to meddle with North Korea.
Does he mean to say that the South and North are on the same side, and the United States is a common enemy of the two Koreas? Is the South a patron of the North? Then why are troops guarding the demarcation line, and why do we need the presence of U.S. forces in Korea? Mr. Roh’s remark is not something we should play down.
Washington has begun applying financial sanctions to Pyongyang for producing and distributing counterfeit U.S. dollars. Mr. Roh seemed to have the sanctions in mind when he made the comment. He might have assumed that a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue would not be possible after the six-party talks broke down. He argued that no matter what happened, Washington should not pressure Pyongyang. Must we really refrain from talking about the collapse of North Korea? Is it indeed a taboo?
In good faith, there are two reasons why we should avoid the subject. If North Korea falls, the South will be left responsible for the other half of the Korean Peninsula and, economically speaking, we cannot afford to support the North yet. Another reason is the concern that an unexpected event, such as a war, might occur in the course of collapse. Therefore, Mr. Roh suggested we should appease and persuade Pyongyang so that it won’t crumble. However, if a breakdown is inevitable because of internal and international factors, can appeasement save North Korea? The fate of a nation is not determined in such a way. Regardless of Seoul’s efforts and intentions, North Korea will walk its destined path. It might fall down or might not. It all depends on how Pyongyang decides to behave.
A sure thing is that the situation will get even more difficult if Pyongyang remains the same. The economic gap with the South will only grow. The only way for North Korea to survive is to join the order of the global economy and live with the rest of the world, just as China has done. The ultimate goal of the so-called “sunshine policy” was to derive positive changes from Pyongyang. Seoul wants to induce the North Korean community to embrace a market economy and democracy. However, after five years of pursuing the sunshine policy, North Korea remains unchanged. The unilateral appeasement from the South turns out to have limits. Thus it is about time to change our policy direction. If North Korea does not abide by international laws, naturally it won’t be able to avoid sanctions and punishments from international society. “If you break the law, we have no choice but to follow international rules and join the sanctions. Even if it brings the collapse of North Korea, we can’t help it.” We should at least be able to say this. Only then will Pyongyang acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and listen to Seoul. Seoul can use sanctions on North Korea and the danger of its collapse as a negotiating card.
In that sense, it is hard to understand President Roh, who has consistently defended Pyongyang. A few days ago, former president Kim Dae-jung announced his plan to visit North Korea in April by train on the Seoul-Shinuiju line. Perhaps Mr. Kim’s Pyongyang visit is somehow associated with Mr. Roh’s patronage of Pyongyang. What is the mutual interest of President Roh, Mr. Kim and Pyongyang?
To Pyongyang, which is pressured by international financial sanctions, Seoul might be the last financial source in a worst case scenario. It would want to avert pressure with a gesture of peace and hope that a regime sympathetic to Pyongyang will remain in power. Mr. Kim must have the ambition to conclude his sunshine policy under the international spotlight. Still influential in the Honam region, he might want the next administration to inherit his policy. Mr. Roh, who hopes to reinvent his administration, needs a turning point that can pull his approval rating up from the bottom. He is seeking a rebound stimulus from the inter-Korean relationship, and help from Mr. Kim and Pyongyang is essential. The interests of the three parties must have coincided here. However, what result will an alliance of the three bring?
Domestic politics and the inter-Korean relationship are inseparable. The more the North Korean issue becomes involved in domestic politics, the bigger Pyongyang’s influence will grow. The nation will then become more vulnerable.
Whether it is the ruling or the opposition party, the progressives or the conservatives, we all have to speak in unison on North Korea. In particular, we should never bring up North Korea in the upcoming election.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk