[VIEWPOINT]Use other countries to our advantageThere is a gap between Korea’s actual status in the international community and Koreans’ consciousness of what it is. Korea has grown up, as an adult in its 30s or 40s, but Koreans’ see themselves as teenagers in the international world.
We need to have the diplomatic skills and positive and progressive ideas appropriate for the world’s 10th-largest economy, but our society holds a passive and negative view of the world, like the resistant nationalism at the end of Joseon Dynasty and the dependency theory in the 1980s.
There is not much thought about the future in this century or strategic planning for the imminent integration of the Korean Peninsula. Instead, emotional nationalism, as expressed in the Korean novel “The Rose of Sharon Blooms,” seems to have become the key word of this age.
Although it is very important to learn from history, we cannot design the future as long as we remain captive to the past.
A century ago, our ancestors fell victim to Japanese imperialism because they were ignorant of how things went in the outside world and failed to concentrate their national strength. Consequently, self-reliance is one of the concepts with the strongest emotional appeal for us.
It is understandable that we Koreans are attracted by anti-Americanism and that we should free ourselves from the influence of the United States, which, as some see it, handed Korea over to Japan through the memorandum of Taft and Katsra a century ago, was partially responsible for the division of Korea and supported the dictatorship of former President Chun Doo Hwan, who triggered the democratic uprising in Gwangju.
As China’s national strength arises, some people even think that we should strategically choose a pro-Chinese and anti-American policy.
But diplomacy should be carried out not with the emotion, but with cool-headed calculation. Particularly, we have a national task to help North Koreans survive and to settle peace perpetually on the Korean Peninsula.
If we pursue a foreign policy based on anti-American sentiment, the hardships for North Koreans will become deeper and the path to settle peace on the Korean Peninsula will become tougher.
The United States leads the world’s politics and economy whether we like it or not, and I wonder if the argument for anti-Americanism fails to open the future for our nation, in the context of world history. And I also can’t believe that the people who argue that bear in their mind the sufferings of our brethren in North Korea, a problem we need to solve urgently.
In international politics, a power vacuum never exists and is unimaginable. A country exists within a certain form of network of power relations.
What is important is to calculate and examine cool-headedly what relationship with other countries is the most advantageous to us.
Instead of deploring that the water is dirty, a fish should learn to survive by adjusting to the water and changing its physical constitution to become stronger.
Since the late 1980s, it has become a known fact that a socialist system is bound to fail unless it introduces the principles of the market economy and undergoes a self-transformation. North Korea is no exception. If this is the case, the ultimate goal of our country’s North Korean engagement policy should be focused on helping it adopt to a market economy.
In this regard, the North Korean policy handed down from the Kim Dae-jung administration at the time of the present administration’s inauguration in 2003 should have been upgraded with appropriate modifications.
Regarding North Korean human rights issues, we should have conveyed our stance quietly and unofficially but with firmness through the inter-Korean channel.
And we should have demanded changes in North Korea’s behavior. If we had performed the engagement policy based on such a principle, North Korea would not look down upon us and we would be in a better position in Western society, including the United States.
We should keep in mind that if the method and process of carrying out the engagement policy does not fit in with world history trends and the values respected in the international community, both Koreas might become stray children in the international society.
* The writer is a professor of politics at Seoul National University and former minister of foreign affairs and trade. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Young-kwan