[Outlook] Now is the timeWe have now reached an important crossroad. We must decide how to apply the two Korean leaders’ joint statement made at the Oct. 4 summit meeting to our politics, particularly our presidential election on Dec. 19. Will we make it a catalyst in the progress of our politics and our relations with North Korea? Or will we let it cause a fatal breakdown in the building of the national consensus needed to maintain our democratic system?
No one will dispute the principle that our strength to deal with various domestic issues, including the final negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear disarmament and growing international competition, depends on our ability to reach a national consensus.
Therefore, it is vital for our policy on reunification to help, not hinder, our society’s sense of unity. We have less than 50 days until the presidential election. Now is the time for our political leadership to remember that our reunification policy must function toward, not against, a national consensus.
The Oct. 4 Joint Statement is a welcome, if belated, effort by the two Koreas to end the Cold War, which technically still continues on the Korean Peninsula. The Korean people are united by the belief that we must move from an era of tension and conflict to one of peaceful cooperation and that tension on the Korean Peninsula must no longer impede the progress of history and development. The Joint Statement voices the Korean people’s willingness to work to bring about this historical change.
China and Vietnam are two exemplary cases of how socialist nations can achieve economic growth and improve their people’s living standards by opening their doors and accepting a market economy.
If the South-North summit meeting convinced North Korea that it should acknowledge the wisdom of China and Vietnam’s decisions, and that the consequences of remaining an outsider in history are extremely detrimental to the existence and the welfare of its people, then it can be seen as a great success.
There have even been discussions in the United Nations about approving a resolution supporting this Joint Statement.
If we are seeking a fair sail from history, we must know in which direction history’s winds are blowing. The 62 years in which the Korean Peninsula remained divided can be characterized into two stages.
In the first stage, South Korea’s government was the only legitimate government on the peninsula, the only one borne by a UN resolution. Naturally, the UN led the efforts to defend South Korea from North Korea’s invasion in 1950. In addition, a UN commander signed the armistice in 1953.
The second stage of the Korean Peninsula’s division began in 1991 when the Cold War ended and the two Koreas entered the UN, side by side. Accepting the reality that two internationally acknowledged governments now existed on the peninsula, South Korea chose an official policy of peaceful endeavors toward reunification in 1991 with a wide consensus from the people. In that same year, it succeeded in signing the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. How did inter-Korean relations regress from such a positive role in the flow of history to a serious state of conflict?
This regression took place because the imbalance between South and North Korea, that is, the gap between the globally open society in the South and the closed hermit regime in the North, had reached a seriously dangerous level.
Facing a threat to its very existence, North Korea decided to pursue nuclear weapons to gain a military advantage over the South, even if it meant risking heightened opposition from the United States and the United Nations in their efforts to ban nuclear proliferation. Now with the possible resolution to North Korea’s nuclear situation in sight of progress in the six-party talks, it is most appropriate that the two Korean leaders have agreed that the Korean Peninsula must return to its proper place in history.
In order to turn this hopeful possibility into actual reality, the first requirement is that South Koreans decide together to take a leading role in the process. National power in today’s world comes from national consensus and support.
The reason Germany has a coalition government and the reason France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has appointed opposition leaders to major governmental posts are the same.
If we are to turn the Oct. 4 Joint Statement into a concrete phase in the two nations’ progress toward better relations and ultimately, peace and reunification, we must make the political decision not to turn South-North relations into a contentious issue in this year’s presidential election.
Every true South Korean hopes for peace and reunification. Far-fetched accusations and taking sides should have no place in our election. This is our shortcut to reunification.
*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Hong-koo