[OUTLOOK]Roh’s diplomacy maturingPresident Roh Moo-hyun gave an interview on Monday on the North’s nuclear test. What the president said during the interview was as shocking as the test itself. The president said “It is now impossible to endure everything, to give concessions to North Korea and to embrace it no matter what it may do.” He added, “I will listen to leaders in the ruling and opposition parties and other leaders in society and will cooperate with international society and then respond sternly and strictly.”
People naturally wonder, “Is this really President Roh?” because he used to be persistent in defending the North. Mr. Roh has said that North Korean attempts to possess nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense were understandable.
The North’s nuclear test means a failure of the Bush administration’s North Korean policy. China has also lost face hugely. However, what were most damaged were President Roh’s North Korea policy and his diplomacy focusing on self-reliance. He supported a North Korean policy for peace and prosperity, which was the successor of former President Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy. Mr. Roh’s policy had focused on cooperation between the shared nationalities of South and North Korea, but he took a sudden U-turn by presenting a cooperative measure with the United States and Japan.
The South Korean government used to have a scenario in which it would improve inter-Korean relations to reassure other countries including the United States and make a huge contribution to resolving the North’s nuclear issue. However, this scenario has fallen apart and the government now has no choice but to join international sanctions led by the United Nations.
The president admitted, “We have lost the ground to emphasize dialogue with the North.” However, he also said, “Although the situation has changed, I will never give up on resolution through dialogue.”
The president’s sudden change of stance is inevitable. When North Korea passed this line, he could no longer resist the voice of international society, which calls for sanctions and pressure on the North. It is a major transformation that he even invited leaders of other political parties and former presidents to offer advice. Whether this is a fundamental change in Mr. Roh’s stance or a temporary retreat will be revealed in the process of handling the major tasks that lay ahead.
As the North has tested a nuclear bomb, comparing military capabilities between South and North Korea has become unnecessary and national security on the Korean Peninsula is likely be seriously shaken. As the metropolitan area near the truce line has become hostage to the North’s nuclear weapons, we desperately need a U.S. nuclear umbrella based on the Korea-U.S. combined forces command system. The scenario of Korea retaking wartime control, dismantling the combined forces and exercising independent self-defense needs to be re-examined from the starting point.
As the North’s military competence exceeds that of the South, pro-North groups in South Korea will likely gain momentum. Some maintain when the North possesses nuclear weapons, it is the same as if we have them. Some civic groups oppose sanctions against the North. Some state that the United States is responsible for this situation. Some will demand that we also develop nuclear weapons. Some will argue that we should bring back the U.S. nuclear weapons that were withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula in 1991. When sanctions against North Korea are implemented, those different groups will try to gain more public support, while observing the North’s response and public opinion in the South.
It is a huge gain that South Korea and Japan have begun to restore their relationship. President Roh had previously declared a “diplomatic war” against Japan but he recently suggested flexibility on the issue of Japanese leaders’ visits to a war shrine. This is also an incident that makes us wonder if he is the person we knew. Mr. Roh used to vow that he would meet a Japanese leader only if the issue of their visits to the war shrine were resolved. But he has changed his stance, to try to persuade the leaders not to visit the shrine, through dialogue. This deserves to be credited as mature diplomacy.
In regard to whether business in the North should continue or not, the president said, “That is not for me only to decide. I will make a discreet decision while closely consulting with the authorities involved and political leaders.”
Why did Mr. Roh not show this stance to the people before? For his remaining term, I hope that he will change his stance not only on foreign affairs and national security, but also on other major processes in managing the administration and the country, including reviving the economy, improving social welfare and education and integrating society.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun