[OUTLOOK]Seoul still sings the same old song

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[OUTLOOK]Seoul still sings the same old song

Nostalgia raises affectionate feelings and happy memories in us. Nostalgia is the chemistry that brings grace to insignificant things and gives decoration to something trivial, as Choi Baek-ho, a middle-aged Korean pop star, sang in a song about nostalgia. The lyrics go, “On a rainy day, what about sitting in an old cafe, drinking a glass of whisky and listening to a saxophone playing.”
On Thursday, when former President Kim Dae-jung, who has lived in a rugged period of Korean politics, gave a lecture on the North’s nuclear problems and the Sunshine Policy at Seoul National University, I am sorry to say it felt like listening to Mr. Choi’s song “On Nostalgia.”
Only days after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution to sanction North Korea, the former president maintained that dialogue and assistance for the North were better ways to solve the problems. When he underscored that “Both North Korea and the United States have responsibility for the North’s nuclear test,” the old politician seemed to reveal his will to cast sunlight even on the United Nations. Sadly, this sounded like old music. When a UN resolution has been adopted, it is not the time to listen to such a song.
Why has Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hurriedly been sent to Asia? Why did she visit Seoul, when people can have video conferences? She must have had a lot to say about this nuclear crisis because she studied international relations. But why did she repeat what President Bush wants to talk about? When asked “Are the Mount Kumgang tourism project and the Kaesong Industrial Complex covered by the UN resolution?” she answered simply that that was for the South Korean government to decide. It was the same with Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Aso. This cold answer implies the warning “Watch the United Nations closely” but South Korea’s government officials in charge of national security want to ignore that.
Instead of taking that remark as a warning, some are even saying, “Making a country’s destiny an international issue is the same as ruining that country.” “How to globalize the destiny of the Korean Peninsula” has been a major task in the history of South Korean diplomacy for the past 100 years. Government officials claim that “to leave our destiny to the United Nations is the same as to giving up our right to decide our future” but this also sounds like a song about nostalgia to me. At least Mr. Choi felt sad when he was listening to “the sound of a boat that departs a port late at night,” because he knew that the boat would never return.
However, Kim Geun-tae, the Uri Party chairman, sang the song that the Mount Kumgang project was for the same nationals of South and North Korea and he danced at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. That would have been okay if he was an ordinary citizen but he is the chairman of the governing party. He does not seem to understand that the North’s nuclear test altered the paradigm of international politics entirely and South Korea can no longer choose what it wants for its diplomacy. Just as the International Monetary Fund took South Korea’s economic sovereignty during the 1998 financial crisis, UN resolution 1718 takes South Korea’s sovereignty over its diplomacy.
If it were only some government officials who hang on to the past, that would be fortunate. But the president said he has ordered an examination of whether the UN resolution is reasonable. Even if that was to criticize Japan’s overreaction, one might wonder if the president of this country, which faces the eye of a storm, properly understands the situation.
The UN resolution is an order for the people involved to stop all their moves. South Korea’s president may believe that enhanced implementation of sanctions will only aggravate Kim Jong-il when his country has been through an arduous march. That is a reasonable base on which to continue the policy to engage the North. But the international diplomacy of yesterday is gone today. These are things to think about when singing a song about nostalgia.
What if the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism project are pinpointed as channels to provide resources for nuclear weapons development? What if the small- and medium-sized companies go bankrupt one after another, Hyundai Asan goes under and Hyundai Merchant Marine, the biggest shareholder, can no longer do business? After pushing North Korea even more, what if the regime is about to collapse and the internal chaos worsens? What if the United States, China, Japan and Russia have four-way talks somewhere, let’s say in Hokkaido, Japan? What if the UN Security Council runs out of patience and looks to article 42, instead of article 41, of Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations in order to take military measures? Would these South Korean politicians still seek continued business in the industrial park and tourism project in North Korea and shout for more dialogue, further assistance and a policy of engagement with the North? They are the only ones who don’t know that Kim Jong-il’s remark that there would be no more nuclear tests seeks to entice those people who sing for nostalgia.

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


by Song Ho-keun
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