[FORUM]Reconciliation is not enoughThe North Korean guide I met at the second South-North Korean high-level talks in Pyongyang in December 1990 was a thorough ideologue of the North Korean Workers Party. He was in his mid-50s and appeared to disregard the agreement not to use abusive words or slander against the other side’s system, saying such things as, “We will live happily with our great leader for tens of thousands of years. How long do you intend to live as a colony of the U.S. imperialists?” and, “The U.S. forces that started the Korean War should be driven out....” I can recall that I tried to counter him at first, but had a hard time changing the subject because he never stopped arguing.
When I went back to North Korea in June 2002, the attitudes of North Korean guides were quite different from 12 years earlier. They hardly said anything abusive or cynical about South Korea. The only questions we heard were out of curiosity and to do with the situation in South Korea, like “Who do you think will win the presidential election?” One of the guides even asked about the principle of a market economy.
Of course, the experience of those who visit North Korea might differ from person to person. But it is difficult to deny that North Korea has shown a change in its attitude since 2000 as it tries to get rid of its combative attitude. Nevertheless, there is a strong suggestion that this was an inevitable choice. Let’s look at the issue of the reunion of families dispersed to the South and the North. When the South Korean Red Cross brought up the issue at the inter-Korean Red Cross Talks in the 1970s and 1980s, North Korea turned away. However, many reunions are being held nowadays, and the two Red Cross societies have even agreed to build a permanent meeting place. In addition, the agreements to establish the Kaesong Industrial Complex and allow tourism projects at Mount Kumgang, despite the fact that these two places are located at important strategic locations militarily, defy any further explanation.
Despite such “changes,” there are still many things that remain unchanged about the North. North Korea carries out its own military drill, but when South Korea engages in a military exercise, the North calls it “training to invade North Korea” and breaks existing agreements, such as to hold the ministerial level talks. They even reject proposals to come and see for themselves what kind of military exercises we do. Neither does North Korea have the slightest intention of withdrawing its demand to revise the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea.
The confrontation between the South and the North at a recent reunion of separated family members at Mount Kumgang shows the unchanged side of North Korea without reservation. The supreme leader of North Korea admitted and apologized to the Japanese prime minister for kidnapping Japanese people, but North Korea won’t even allow us to use the expression “kidnapped by North Korea,” let alone acknowledging such an act. Why? Probably it is because the North Koreans regard the problem of kidnapping as a systematic problem. And the fact that their confession to Japan made things worse rather than solving the matter might have had an effect also. In other words, not much change can be expected from North Korea on this issue.
Everybody acknowledges that South and North Korean relations have come a long way. Yet, as was revealed by this recent incident, it is apparent that trouble is always lying in ambush. Certain forces in the South and the North are distinctively emphasizing “national cooperation,” as if it is a panacea that can solve all our problems at once. However, the truth is that for the second time since last year, South and North Korea could not cooperate even on the vocabulary, “kidnapped by North Korea.” This shows us that South and North Korea have many obstacles to overcome before we can get to the path of “true reconciliation.”
However, the current government has tried to turn a blind eye to reality, saying, “South and North Korean relations have never developed as much as this before.” All it did this time was to express ambiguous “regrets” again, so it seems highly unlikely that the government will come up with a counteraction to prevent a recurrence of an incident like this.
The government has insisted that “Provoking North Korea will create inconvenience to South and North Korean relations.” In other words, since the expression “kidnapped by North Korea” provokes North Korea, the South Korean press shouldn’t use this expression if we don’t want to create an “inconvenience” to ourselves. This outrageous paradox is the logical conclusion of the one-sided North Korea policy that only puts forward “reconciliation.” We must not forget that an effective North Korea policy can only be established when the goal of “reconciliation” is observed together with the reality of “confrontation” in a three-dimensional way.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ahn Hee-chang