[OUTLOOK]Inner approach no longer worksThe revised version of “A Memoir of Hwang Jang-yup” was released last week. His memories of the 10 years he was an exile in South Korea have been added. His memoir begins with his regrets about his misjudgment.
“In early 1997, when I left North Korea, the communist country was facing collapse. I was convinced that if the situation persisted, the regime would collapse within five years.” When he made up his mind to seek asylum in South Korea, only weapons factories were operating in North Korea. Those items would become useless in five years and he predicted that Kim Jong-il’s regime would then be automatically disarmed.
He wrote that he realized when he arrived in South Korea that his judgment was wrong. Back in North Korea, he had thought South Korea would want the collapse of the North Korean regime more than any other country.
But he found out that was not the case. South Korea provided assistance to support Kim Jong-il’s regime and prevent it from collapsing. That sounds like an an accusation and in part an excuse for his misjudgment.
In 1994, after Kim Il Sung died, as natural disasters like floods and droughts kept occurring, predictions spread that North Korea’s collapse was imminent. That was reasonable that outside observers saw the collapse of Kim Jong-il’s regime as only a matter of time because even Mr. Kim, the central figure of the regime, thought the same.
But against this mainstream belief, a scholar argued for the durability of the North Korean regime. He was Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok of South Korea, who announced his resignation Tuesday. In his 1995 book, “An Understanding of Modern North Korea,” he wrote, “I tried to understand North Korea without prejudice on the priciple that in North Korea there exists some kind of reason which uniquely regulates management of the society as a whole.” Through this “inner approach,” he concluded that North Korea would not collapse. As he diagnosed, North Korea still stays alive some 10 years later.
North Korean policy changes according to the views on North Korea. Despite contradictions and flaws in the system, if we believe that Kim Jong-il’s regime will be sustained for quite a long period, finding ways for co-existence through reconciliation and cooperation is the right thing to do.
However, if we see believe that a collapse is inevitable, our North Korean policy should focus on managing the process of that collapse and preparing for what comes after.
The moment North Korea pushed the button for a nuclear detonation, the North’s nuclear issue left the hands of South and North Korea and become a chess match of international politicians. If North Korea went ahead with a nuclear-weapons test believing that it would follow the examples of India and Pakistan, it reveals the regime’s ignorance and misunderstanding of international politics.
Northeast Asia can never accept a North Korea that possesses nuclear weapons. In that sense the nuclear test of North Korea implies that North Korea itself declared that it would die from the cancerous cells called nuclear weapons.
A prediction on North Korea’s collapse that arises now is totally different from one of 10 years ago. That is not because of internal causes in North Korea, but because of the outside environment. The United States has a strategy to stop the cancer cell from spreading, through the Proliferation Security Initiative, and to wait for the North Korean regime to pass away. China will have to play a villain in this scenario.
Now we are facing a crossroads. We should decide whether we hold on to the tarnished Sunshine Policy and become a hostage to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, or to foresee a time after the collapse of Mr. Kim’s regime and to design a new North Korean policy.
International society has already made its choice; it cannot coexist with a North Korea that is armed with nuclear devices.
It then becomes clear which path we should take. We should cooperate with international society. If we hesitate in making that decision, we will become an orphan in international society and will be bullied on the chess board that decides the destiny of the Korean Peninsula.
That happened 100 years ago at the end of the Joseon Dynasty and again 60 years ago when the country gained independence from Japanese colonization.
Different assumptions come up about why Minister Lee, a symbolic figure of the policy of engagement with the North, announced his resignation.
I want to believe that he decided to resign because he reasoned that an inner approach to understanding North Korea could no longer work due to the North’s nuclear test.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok