[Viewpoint]What Dear Leader wantsIf you are fortunate to survive long enough, you start recognizing patterns. This is because, to a remarkable degree, the patterns of human nature repeat themselves.
It’s not that older people are more intelligent than younger people. In fact, our mental faculties diminish with each passing year, but some of us do acquire a bit of wisdom by paying attention.
Having kept an eye on Korea since 1975, it’s amazing for me to see, as the old saw goes, that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Case in point is the symbiotic relationship between South and North Korea.
While at times the two have been bloodthirsty enemies, they could not truly exist without each other. The North rationalizes its draconian policies based on a war footing with the South and its “American masters” waiting below the 38th Parallel.
And, during Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship, controls on South Koreans’ civil rights were justified by the threat of invasion from the North.
In fact, there was a de facto understanding that prior to any major election, the North would oblige the South’s government with some border incidents to scare the southern populace into supporting President Park.
Why? A truly adversarial conservative government provided the justification Pyongyang needed to apply the same pressures ― albeit in spades ― to their own population.
This mutual boogeyman approach to civil control ended with the election of Kim Dae-jung.
At the time, some foreign wags joked that someone’s head must have rolled in Pyongyang, since having a friendly, rather than an adversarial, president in the Blue House was against the established rules. In time, however, Pyongyang discovered that the new game could be a better play. Great Leader, Jr. knew that the times had changed and he needed to develop a new paradigm as the Dear Leader.
Following the first summit seven years ago between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il, the North Koreans realized their propaganda could gain some of the best traction ever with promises of peace, brief reunifications of families, merged sports teams, etc. ― all of which were tokens ― in return for millions of U.S. dollars in South Korean aid. What a deal!
I’m just old enough to remember the 1950s Broadway show “Damn Yankees!” One of its memorable moments is when Lola, the temptress employed by the Devil, croons, “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”
Actress Gwen Verdon was much more pleasant on the eye than Kim Jong-il, but during flirtatious interludes, such as the North’s current call to cancel joint ROK-U.S. military exercises, I can almost imagine Dear Leader on the world stage sashaying about, singing, “What Jong-il wants, Jong-il gets.”
And with Roh Moo-hyun as a stand-in for the vulnerable and gullible Tab Hunter, Dear Leader may succeed as well as Lola did during the first half of the show.
But of course, the show’s finale is what really counts. When Tab Hunter eventually wakes up from his adolescent fantasy and takes a mature look at his situation, Lola’s charms quickly fade.
That moment for South Korea could take place during the coming presidential election. The election is what this second summit is all about, and it can be summed up in just three syllables: Lee Myung-bak.
The summit is the latest and strongest maneuver to keep Lee out of the Blue House. Everything else can be categorized as window dressing and/or red herrings.
Many Koreans wonder ― if Lee becomes president, will there be a general accounting of what really took place during the years of the Sunshine Policy?
I’ve heard some rather unsavory rumors and speculation on what may be uncovered, but have no idea if any of these stories are remotely true.
But according to these street whispers and beer-fueled conversations, Kim Dae-jung may have the most to lose if the former Seoul mayor becomes president ― not to mention that North Korea may actually be required to be accountable and reciprocal for future South Korean aid.
In other words, the second summit has very little to do with diminishing tensions on the peninsula and promoting eventual reunification. It has everything to do with maintaining the status quo.
The patterns repeat themselves and powerful folks are scurrying about to ensure that these patterns stay in place.
On the other hand, the next presidential elections could cause a shift in patterns if the conservative Grand National Party’s candidate wins. Otherwise, we may expect more of the same. But before then, we will be treated to a second summit.
Dear Leader may not have Lola’s legs or voice, but I for one will be crying out from the audience, “Croon, Jong-il, croon! Swoon, Moo-hyun, swoon!” After all, who needs Broadway when Korean politics provides better entertainment?
*The writer is president of Soft Landing Korea, a management and training firm, and coauthor of “Mastering Business in Korea: A Practical Guide.”
by Tom Coyner