[Outlook]Choosing our battles

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[Outlook]Choosing our battles

Great generals search for an ideal battleground before starting a battle. Choosing the place to fight is a skilled strategy that decides victory or defeat.
In the battle for this year’s presidential election in Korea, it seems that the United New Democratic Party has chosen the place for battle because it stems from the ruling party.
Even though some say that North Korea set the date for the summit meeting between South and North Korea, the summit meeting will be held two months before the presidential election, and the meeting’s agenda will include very sensitive and important issues, including the return of Korean nationals and reunification.
Holding a banner touting peaceful reunification, the ruling circle is in the canyon of inter-Korean relations, trying to stop conservative forces that are charging forward shouting for “an advanced economy.”
The Grand National Party, which outnumbers its rival, has sensed the enemy’s tactic, so it pretends to be flexible on the North Korea issue with a blueprint for peace. Meanwhile, it tries to move the battle from the canyon to the field of economic policy.
To academic people who are watching the upcoming battle, the claim that the North Korea policy of former President Kim Dae-jung and sitting President Roh Moo-hyun will pave the road for reunification is as flimsy as the logic that a successful CEO will revive the country’s economy.
The former claim goes that if the South provides assistance to the North to build trust, the two maintain peace and the North’s economy develops, the two Koreas will definitely be reunified.
The ruling circle’s wishful thinking is not coherent in its logic and there has been no such case in history.
The best part of the theory is that if North Korea becomes strong through South Korea’s economic assistance, the foundation for reunification will be prepared.
First of all, economic aid will likely help Kim Jong-il pass his despotic rule down to his offspring instead of helping North Korea’s economy develop.
Even if the North’s economy develops, the resultant political power that the regime will enjoy will make it even stronger, and the North will stick to its own ways and compete against the South, instead of pursuing reunification. Thus, if things go exactly as the ruling circle plans, in the end it will become even harder to achieve reunification.
To justify its policy, the South Korean government often refers to East Germany’s Ostpolitik, the German term for its Eastern Policy.
The Social Democratic Party’s Eastern Policy in the 1970s was aimed at ending existing hostile relations and providing aid to East Germany. This policy contributed to peace for the two German states to some extent.
But they were reunified because reforms and opening doors, which started in the former Soviet Union, spread into East Germany and made the communist dictatorship fall, not because of the Eastern Policy.
With the summit meeting to be held soon, there is another topic for discussion ― the concept of an economic community between South and North Korea, something similar to the European Community.
But for the last half century, the European Union, followed by the European Community, has had democracy and a market economy. Having a common political and economic system and philosophy is one of the requirements for membership.
World history has shown that once borders between countries are set, no matter how arbitrary they may be, they tend to persist and be strengthened. For instance, in Latin America and Africa, borders were drawn by colonial powers for convenience in administrative affairs.
But even after those colonies earned independence, the borderlines have not changed much.
Meanwhile, Germany and Austria did not become one country even though they share the same culture, customs, language, market economy and democratic system. The United States won independence from Great Britain, not because they were different nationalities, but because they had different interests.
China believes that if it accepts Taiwan as a country a d vice versa, and if international society accepts this, the two countries still cannot be reunited. So China uses all its diplomatic power and denies that Taiwan is an independent country.
As shown in these examples, we have to choose either peace and stability or reunification in inter-Korean relations. It is possible to buy peace with money, to some degree. But as long as we do not give up democracy, the most realistic method for reunification is Germany’s model of absorption.
In the South, progressive forces who call themselves those who democratized the country advocate centrist development. Meanwhile, conservatives who argue they modernized the country are suddenly focusing on human rights issues.
This might be the charming part of Korea’s politics, but it is worrisome that their battle could cost us victory in a larger war ― the one for the future of Korea.

*The writer is a professor of political science at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Hong-sik
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