[OUTLOOK]New basis for inter-Korean talksNearly two months have passed since North Korea conducted a nuclear test. The test seemed like a disastrous event for a couple of days, but now it feels like it happened a very long time ago. The government’s North Korea policies have remained more or less the same. It has clung to Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy. Opposition parties have not presented any alternatives. So should we be living as if nothing had happened?
The Cold War era of the United States facing the former Soviet Union was ended by one event: the fall of the Berlin Wall. The era after that is called the post-Cold War era or the era of U.S. unilateralism. That era, however, is coming to an end after less than 20 years because of the Iraq War. Some maintain that U.S. unilateralism is ending and the era of two major powers, namely the United States and China, is coming.
Inter-Korean relationships also have major events that ended an era and opened a new one. President Kim Dae-jung’s visit to Pyongyang opened an era of dialogue and sunshine. But that era has to come to an end because of the North’s nuclear test. We failed to prevent the test, so the Sunshine Policy also failed. Now we need a new paradigm for inter-Korean relationships. South Koreans do not feel insecure, despite the test. That is not because the Sunshine Policy has worked. It is because South Koreans have taken ill from too much sunshine. The dialogue with North Korea has been a sickly one. We should love what we have before we have a dialogue. It should be “I like what I have but you don’t. So, let’s find out why.”
If two parties reach a common goal through this approach, the dialogue is a success. When we have dialogue with North Korea, we should treasure what we have. We should be ready to protect the values of freedom, human rights, economic prosperity and democracy before we talk with the North. When Kim Dae-jung presented a proposal for a loose federation with Kim Jong-il, the South Korean leader did not clarify the values the reunified Korea should pursue. It’s the same with President Roh Moo-hyun. I have hardly heard him saying we should protect liberal democracy. Instead, we have become too understanding of North Korea because of our internal approach. When participating in international or inter-Korean events, we hold up the unification flag instead of the South Korean flag, because holding the latter might agitate the North. Some South Koreans claim that the dictatorship in the North was inevitable and we should understand the regime’s oppression of human rights.
Indeed, many South Koreans have come to believe that our values are wrong. They say that in South Korea, the pro-Japanese forces during the Japanese occupation assumed power, while independence movement activists seized power in the North. The South Korean government has worked to clear up suspicions and misunderstandings about the past. But that led us to believe that our past is wrong and to belittle ourselves. Does that mean that we should become like North Korea? That’s why chaos has erupted here.
As our leaders do not love what we have, there has been no goal in the relations with North Korea. There was no direction for the dialogue. They were obsessed with having dialogue for the sake of dialogue. They acted as if stopping inter-Korean communication meant disaster. Naturally, North Korea always took the initiative at the dialogues. South Korea provided cash, rice and fertilizer to continue dialogue. Seoul claimed that the talks should not be ended, even after North Korea test-fired missiles. It was busier blaming the United States than blaming the North. Even though North Korea carried out a nuclear detonation, South Korea maintains that it should have conversations with the North in order to avoid war. Why should we continue this type of conversation?
But we cannot sever the North Korean connection completely, either. When dialoguing with North Korea, South Korea has demanded from its own people unconditional understanding and concessions, emphasizing that South and North Koreans are of the same nationality. But now it needs to adopt a new way. It should have negotiations, not dialogue. When having negotiations, South Korean leaders should prioritize our country’s interests. They should undestand clearly the interests and goals of our country.
Such a meeting is reciprocal. When a party gives something, it should receive something else in return. A party should not be forced to attend any meeting because of the other party’s military threats. A party should have enough power to protect itself. In negotiations, these principles are respected.
In the era of dialogue, dialogue itself was the only goal, so we had no choice but to desperately seek talks with North Korea. But there is no need to beg for it, because we can have it when we need it. In preparation for an era of negotiations, the Unification Ministry should be restructured. The ministry has been emphasizing dialogue with North Korea. Building a canal and implementing real estate measures are important too, but inter-Korean relationships are directly related to the existence and survival of the country. I hope that the presidential candidates will have sincere debates on a new paradigm for inter-Korean relationships.
*The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk