[VIEWPOINT]Consider the needs of both Koreas

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[VIEWPOINT]Consider the needs of both Koreas

The convention on North Korean human rights held in Belgium increased attention to the problem. In our society, there are mixed views on the issue.
One argument is that the human rights problem has derived from the Kim Jong-il regime, so the regime should be destroyed and North Korean residents liberated from the Communist dictatorship as soon as possible. Several groups believe this: the North Korean defectors who came to South Korea, anti-communist forces who fought against or were persecuted by North Korea and the people who work for the democratization of North Korea for its residents. They think the North Korean regime should be brought down by any means.
The other way to look at the issue is only how it affects South Koreans. To them, prevention of war is most important. They are aware of the seriousness of the North Korean human rights problem, but believe a peace system should be established to prevent a war from breaking out. They say the human rights issue can wait. Of course, many romantic unification theorists and pro-North Korean forces are among them. But most oppose the collapse of North Korea not because they are truly against it but because inter-Korean dialogue will be suspended if they publicly support the argument for the collapse.
Upon closer examination, however, both views have problems. Neither takes into account the positions of all of North and South Koreans. Turning away from the human rights infringement and the pain North Korean residents are suffering in return for peace and security is not good for all of North and South Korea. Discussing only peace with the North Korean government without questioning its human rights conditions is no different from extracting a promise of peace from North Korea in return for keeping silent about North Korean human rights. This is like the Taft-Katsura Agreement from July 1905.
This deal may have been a peace pact from the stance of the United States and Japan, but to our nation, wasn’t it a deal that internationally acknowledged the Japanese colonial rule of Korea?
That is why we should be able to go beyond our own thoughts and think from the position of North Korean residents, by meeting North Korean defectors frequently and listening to what they have to say. We should be able to discuss both peace and human rights issues when we have an inter-Korean dialogue.
On the other hand, those who long for the fall of the North Korean regime should be able to understand the position of South Koreans and their government. The South Korean government and mainstream Korean society cannot publicly support the argument for the collapse of North Korea, even if they wish its fall in their hearts. This is because the overriding task of the Korean government is to prevent war on the Korean Peninsula.
So the South Korean government cannot neglect pursuing dialogue and cooperation with North Korea. The same goes for the opposition party if it comes into office. Although it may not be satisfactory for North Korean defectors, the option for the South Korean government is to raise the issue within the framework of dialogue with the North, not overtly lead the democratization movement of North Korea in accordance with North Korean defectors. We should admit this inevitable difference.
The point is how to achieve a consensus by overcoming all those differences, so that the absolute majority of South Koreans would be able to agree on the issue. Human rights are universal to all mankind. The argument that North Korea is an exception is simply not right. I believe most South Koreans would agree.
Furthermore, whether there is an argument for the collapse of North Korea or not, specific policies that the South Korean government has already adopted should not change. In other words, the government should continue supporting the economic cooperation with North Korea that has been carried out to date, but new humanitarian aid or economic cooperation should be linked to improving North Korean human rights conditions. The distribution of food aid should be monitored as the World Food Programme of the United Nations does.
The argument to stop the aid to North Korea without improving North Korea’s human rights conditions might again bring catastrophic starvation of the country’s residents. Anybody can argue that. But it would be very difficult to reach the consensus we need just with that.

* The writer is a pastor and the co-chairman of Policy Initiative for the Advancement of Korea. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Suh Kyung-suk

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