[Outlook]Historical cycles repeat themselves

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[Outlook]Historical cycles repeat themselves

‘Why is Korea breaking away from its alliances with the United States and Japan and turning toward China and North Korea?” A Japanese diplomat-turned-professor asked me at a Korea-Japan forum in Japan last summer. Just as some Japanese political figures intend to advance toward the continent while others turn toward the ocean, Koreans find themselves choosing one direction or the other.
During the Joseon Dynasty, those who leaned toward China assumed most of the leadership. But at the end of the dynasty, some industrialization-minded pro-Japanese people emerged, and these people worked as agents for Japanese militarism. Later, they were accused of surrendering our national sovereignty to Japan. The expression “pro-Japan” has since taken on a negative connotation and thus is hardly ever used.
The evaluations of Syng-man Rhee, Korea’s first president, vary depending on whom you ask.In my view he symbolizes it was the first time in Korea’s history that those who looked to the ocean assumed power.
As Mr. Rhee introduced American ideology and systems of democracy and capitalism, very unfamiliar systems for Korea at that time, Koreans have been able to advance as much as they have. Even though Mr. Rhee made anti-communism and being anti-Japanese his political slogans, he incorporated a great number of elites who received a Japanese-style education or studied in Japan into his administration.
After Park Chung Hee took power, Kim Chung-yum, who was educated in Japan, and Nam Duck-woo, a former vice prime minister who studied in the United States, were hired as technocrats.
At that time, those who received doctoral degrees in the United States were treated with honor in Korea and granted major positions once they came home.
Due to the separation of South and North Korea and the Korean War, pro-North Korean and pro-Chinese groups were thoroughly isolated and viewed as criminals. China was usually called Red China and North Korea the North Korean puppet regime.
In the Chun Doo Hwan administration, people who studied in the United States became even more powerful. From the Rhee administration to the Chun administration, those who studied across the ocean, and who were pro-Japanese and pro-American, worked at the core of the regime and settled in as a privileged group. All three administrations were despotic.
As the core forces of the despotic regime were pro-Japanese and pro-American, the incumbent administration had the idea that abandoning the dictatorship meant eradicating pro-Japanese and pro-American forces.
That’s why the administration pours a great deal of money and manpower into projects to clarify suspicious historical matters or incidents.
From the end of the 1970s until the 1980s, a great number of college students and intellectuals thought they should know more about China. They studied Maoism and North Korea and even created different factions, such as the juche faction, the National Liberation faction and the People’s Democracy faction. Such pro-Chinese and pro-North Korean ideologies became tools to fight against the dictatorship.
In particular, while some Koreans were suspicous of the role of the United States in Gwangju in 1980, anti-Americanism became more pronounced when Korean junior high school girls were killed by a U.S. armored truck in 2002. As a result, in the presidential election campaign, the student activists-turned-politicians’ camp gained the public’s support.
The third round of democratic administrations, the advent of the Kim Dae-jung administration and the Roh Moo-hyun administration, meant the collapse of pro-Japanese and pro-American forces and the rise of pro-Chinese and pro-North Korean forces. The Sunshine Policy; the June 15, 2000 summit meeting between South and North Korea, opening the railways crossing the border of the two Koreas; clarifying the truth on suspicious historical incidents; the balancer theory; independent national defense and plans to retake wartime control are moves that reveal the typical pro-continental ideologies.
When looking at the flow of history, the Roh administration is neither a protrusion on flat land, nor the people’s temporary mistake.
The members of the incumbent administration were sure their thoughts and policies were just. They believed that their task was to engage with the continent, so they began to escape from the alliance with the United States and Japan and became pro-Chinese and pro-North Korean.
Kim Jae-chul, the president of Dongwon Group, has a map of the Korean Peninsula hung upside down in his office. The peninsula is not hanging on the tip of the continent, but is about to spring into the vast ocean. On the continent, there is remorse for the past, say the Communist Party and the juche ideology.
In the ocean, there are unlimited resources, the world, Korean dreams and dynamism.
The third phase of democratic administrations is nearing its end. Where will we find a new drive for the new era?


by Kwon Nyong-bin
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