[OUTLOOK]Self-reliance or isolation?

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[OUTLOOK]Self-reliance or isolation?

At the end of “the hermit kingdom,” or Joseon Dynasty, the outer world tried hard to force Korea to open its doors.
Japan forced the Joseon leaders to sign the Treaty of Ganghwa, or Korea-Japanese Treaty of Amity, and then used force to enter Korea.
The United States also eagerly wanted to secure a market here. When the U.S. ship the General Sherman was attacked by infuriated Koreans, the United States used the incident as an excuse to force Korean to open its doors and also sign a trade treaty.
Russia intensified its fleet at Vladivostok in preparation for a southward expansion.
The Qing Dynasty couldn’t stand the idea of its tributary state being under the influence of other countries and thus gave Li Hongzhang, a Chinese politician and general, exclusive power to interfere in domestic affairs inside Korea.
What is the right way to keep self-reliance in the face of outer forces’ attempts to open a nation’s doors?
To this question by Emperor Gojong, a booklet titled “Joseon Chaengnyak,” or “Korean Strategy,” gave an answer.
The book was written by He Ruzhang, a Chinese minister of the Qing legation stationed in Japan.
The author advised that Korea should consult on all matters with China, engage with Japan and sign a trade treaty with the United States in order to keep Russia in check. (From “World Diplomatic History,” by Kim Yong-Koo.)
But Japan was brutal, the United States was too far away to help and Russia was insidious.
Self-reliance means balancing power between nations and that first requires the possession of a certain amount of power. Lacking that, there was little that Emperor Gojong could do.
One hundred and twenty years have since passed. But the foreign policy of Emperor Gojong and that of President Roh Moo-hyun look similar, except that Korea has gained a little bit more capability since those deplorable days.
Both leaders have emphasized self-reliance and a minimum of intervention by other countries. Both have tried to become mediators and secure a leading position through the balance of power.
Does President Roh then have more options in the midst of the current missile crisis?
There is little proof that international order has become more advantageous to us than during the times of Emperor Gojong in the late 19th century.
Except Japan, the other three powers ― the United States, Russia and China ― have become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The format of the four countries has become two sided -- the United States and Japan versus China and Russia.
On top of this, North Korea has been added as a rogue country that is a beneficiary of China and Russia’s strategic protection.
In this post-modern era, the legacy from the previous era remains clearly in the Asian region. People in Korea have vivid memories of the colonial era and strong nationalism recalls the nightmares of past imperialism.
Under these complicated circumstances, North Korea fired its missiles as if publicly displaying its political beliefs.
Borrowing the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s rhetoric, that was a “revolutionary force that will crush imperialism.”
The head of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, wants to get through this situation, although it may require him to resort to extreme methods.
After shocking international society, he has remained low-profile, as if asking, “What will you do now?”
South Korea is in the trickiest position. Seoul had told the world powers that it would resolve the North Korea problem in its own way and asked them to wait, while approaching Pyongyang.
Seoul must now feel that it was betrayed after giving aid to the North.
To the South Korean unification minister who revealed this feeling, the head of the North’s delegation delivered his leader’s message that South Koreans also benefit from the North’s military-first policy.
Whether the head of the South Korean delegation became speechless at that remark or not, if a serious statement condemning the insane aspects of that claim is not released, the United States and Japan will assume that South Korea is not much different from the North.
If the North’s intention was to separate South Korea from an alliance with the United States and Japan, or to make publicly obvious the South Korean government’s sympathy for the North, it has achieved some of those goals by launching its missiles.
When President Roh, who has remained quiet on the missile incident, condemned Japan for talking about the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on the North, Kim Jong-il must have worn a smug face.
Kim Hong-jip, who claimed that Korea should engage the Japanese, was beaten to death by a public crowd in downtown Seoul. Emperor Gojong had to endure the collapse of the Joseon Dinasty.
Although 120 years have passed since the “Joseon Chaengnyak” was written, Koreans are still confused which country they should stay close to, which country to engage with and which country to reach out to.
The government set its strategy for peaceful co-existence to achieve self-reliance and to become a mediator.
It also kept providing aid to the North, arguing that it should help North Korea to stay afloat in order to avoid a war. These arguments were crushed by the North’s missile launchings.
Seoul seems unable to turn its head when Pyongyang asks for supply of electronic power and rice.
As the United States and Japan are likely to push North Korea further away, labeling it a rogue country, South Korea’s cooperation with the two countries does not seem probable either.
If there is no chance to work with other countries, South Korea will be adrift in the middle of a turbulent sea for a good while, with its flag of self-reliance flapping.
Japan is sly, he United States has adopted a hardline and China and Russian call themselves the big brothers of North Korea.
I wonder what is the “new Korea strategy” that can rescue the vessel named “Roh Moo-hyun”.

* The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Song Ho-keun

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