[VIEWPOINT]Firm, clear action is urgently neededNowadays, the Korean Peninsula looks like a mantis holding up its forelimbs rather than a tiger. It might be an optical illusion. In old stories, the mantis is often described as an insect that rushes about wildly without knowing its own capacity. Reading old tales about the ruthless behavior of a mantis that tried to stop a wagon by standing in front of it, or one that tried to catch a cicada without knowing that itself was being preyed on by a sparrow, one cannot but admire the teachings and sense of humor of the old sages.
Kim Jong-il might have expected that what happened in India and Pakistan in May 1998 would be repeated. On May 12, 1998, India tested a nuclear device with a blitz. But attendees of the G-8 meeting held four days after the blast failed to condemn India’s nuclear gamble. The heads of state were too busy exchanging congratulatory greetings with Russia, a newcomer to the club of rich countries. They put the condemnation of India on the back burner. The heads of state of major countries left the meeting even before the official ending, making the excuse that they wanted to watch the television broadcast of the World Cup soccer preliminaries held in France in which their national teams were competing.
Pakistan smiled when the country saw that the leaders of the world community took India’s nuclear gamble lightly. On May 28 of the same year, Pakistan also tested a nuclear bomb suddenly, taking advantage of the world community’s negligence. North Korea probably expected a repeat of such a scenario.
This time, however, things went a different way. The international community swiftly adopted a resolution to sanction North Korea through the UN Security Council. Unlike the case with India and Pakistan, which ended in a local confrontation in which the two countries took aim at each other, North Korea’s nuclear test is a threat to the whole world. Here lies Mr. Kim’s misjudgment of the situation. While being tempted by the nuclear weapons in front of him, he overlooked the sparrows from behind.
At the Blue House and Unification Ministry, press briefings are often held anonymously. High-ranking government officials hold press conferences voluntarily and express their view that inter-Korean cooperation projects, such as the Mount Kumgang tourism project and Kaesung Industrial Complex, have nothing to do with UN sanctions on North Korea. And then, they ask journalists “not to use my name and write as a related government official.”
But their expression of personal views didn’t last more than two days. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she “will watch the South Korean government’s decision on inter-Korean economic cooperation projects,” they immediately gave in. The Blue House spokesman stepped back, saying, “It is not the government’s official view.”
It was rather like a scene from a comedy when Kim Geun-tae, chairman of the Uri Party, chanted aloud “Mount Kumgang, go for it!” and “Hyundai Asan, go for it!” when he visited Hyundai Asan Corporation. What will South Korea do if the sanctions committee under the UN Security Council questions whether the Mount Kumgang tourism projects and Kaesong Industrial Complex are the routes through which hard currency flows to North Korea’s leadership? If, by any chance, Hyundai Merchant Marine’s liners are banned from shipping lanes to the United States and Japan as a punishment for not complying with the UN resolution, the only thing to do is suffer the punishment. It would have been much wiser to maintain strategic obscurity.
If the government and the governing party work together, there are two things they should do urgently. First, they must work out a plan to withdraw South Koreans in the North safely to prepare for the outbreak of the worst situation. We should not neglect the warning of Alexander Vershbow, Washington’s ambassador to Seoul, who said, “[South] Koreans in the North can be held there as hostages.” Another thing is that the government must cancel the Korean Peninsula Denuclearization Declaration in protest against the North’s nuclear test in a firm and clear voice. This is the right time for South Korea to secure the assurance of protection under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, while completing the nuclear usage cycle comparable to that of Japan in the nuclear technology field.
This is not the time for South Korea to rush to North Korea for political purposes and support North Korea saying, “There is nothing to worry about in North Korea.” Moreover, we are not in a situation to threaten people by saying, “Then, do you mean we should start a war with the North?” Frankly, I feel ashamed because I have a feeling that I see the worst case of amateurism in the work of our government. Nowadays, the mantises that ruthlessly rush around the Korean Peninsula seem more fearsome than the nuclear weapons in North Korea’s hands.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho