[Outlook]Restoration of trustA major culprit behind the challenges facing the Korean people since the end of the 19th century has been our inability to integrate with the historical mainstream.
Even as we enter a new era of globalization in the 21st century, we are still not free from such restraints. The reason is twofold: the tragic division of the Korean Peninsula has lasted 63 years; North Korea is still unwilling to comply with global pressure to open up.
When President Lee Myung-bak goes to the Korea-U.S. Summit this week in Washington, D.C., he will be faced with the daunting task of unfettering the bridled Korean Peninsula, which is locked in the so-called exceptional zone of our history.
Recent Korean history is intertwined with global developments that the United States has initiated.
Against this backdrop, Korea was freed from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, and it succeeded in founding its own republic under the banner of democracy 60 years ago this year.
We should not forget that a strong Korea-U.S. alliance has greatly contributed to our past achievements, and it has gone far beyond commonly understood geopolitical principles.
It should also be remembered that Korea has withstood an overwhelming regional power imbalance that has seen swathes of East Asia fall under the influence of communist ideology.
These countries include Russia, China, Vietnam, and North Korea.
The fact that Korea has maintained its free democratic republic system is widely considered a geopolitical miracle, made possible by Korea’s especially strong alliance with the United States.
From the North’s perspective, this is an unfair result, yet it rejected global trends and isolated itself in a historically exceptional zone, even though post-Cold War society was already transformed within the paradigm of market-oriented policies.
In this sense, North Korea only has itself to blame, having caused the Korean people great pain.
It lost its first opportunity to interact with the rest of the world 20 years ago, when Germans pulled down the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rest of the Iron Curtain followed.
At that time, South Korea spared no diplomatic efforts to cope with the new era of compromise.
This led to Korea’s diplomatic normalization with the Soviet Union in 1990; Korea’s diplomatic normalization with Russia in 1992; and the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement and Joint Denuclearization Declaration of 1992.
Regrettably, our great endeavors should have achieved an appropriate goal: “cross-recognition,” the North’s diplomatic normalization with the United States and Japan to adjust itself to the epoch-making changes.
However, North Korea failed to achieve such goals and took inappropriate measures to stick to its own shallow ideas and swim against the tide of globalization.
It adopted a misguided policy of developing nuclear weapons, heralding the beginning of the “lost 20 years.”
North Korea had a second opportunity to be free from its isolated exceptional zone of the world’s mainstream.
It came at the end of 2000 when great breakthroughs were achieved at the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 with the June 15 joint declaration and with the United States’ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s visit to Pyongyang.
However, North Korea did not take this opportunity to bolster diplomatic relations with the United States.
It didn’t opt to throw off its shroud of secrecy, especially in the aftermath of the 2000 U.S. presidential election.
North Korea sensed that the United States was returning to a more conservative administration.
Eight years have passed since then.
Now, we believe that North Korea has an invaluable third opportunity.
This is the time for North Korea to honor the denuclearization process, focusing on nuclear disablement, declare, and roll back that has already been agreed upon within the political framework of the six-party talks.
What do we anticipate for the Korea-U.S. summit, which is expected to be held at such a significant moment?
First, Korea and the United States should try to restore mutual trust to resolve the “crisis of trust.”
We may have contributed to boosting North Korea’s isolation by our shared histories and understanding.
The United States could misunderstand us, believing that we don’t strongly believe in the Korea-U.S. alliance.
This is why the Korea-U.S. summit is of such great importance.
It will serve as an excellent opportunity to resolve any misunderstandings.
Second, we have to revolutionize the way we think about the triangular relationships between the South, North and the United States, based on restored strong Korea-U.S. relations.
It is unnecessary for South Korea to continue to over-react to the North’s strategy of forging friendly relations with the United States, while maintaining hostility against the South.
If North Korea-U.S. talks finalize the denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula and facilitate North Korea’s efforts to open itself to the rest of the world, there is no need to be concerned about our nonparticipation in the talks.
If our aim focuses on freeing Korea from the above-mentioned historic restraints, we will be able to urge the North to make prompt decisions.
Now, we can see that the world is heading towards peace and co-prosperity.
It is doing this by facilitating the co-existence of the diversified various institutions in one globalized market.
Lee Myung-bak administration’s strategy “denuclearization, opening and 3,000” should strive to achieve the ultimate goal that North Korea would return to the world’s historic mainstream, based on the “cross recognition” between the two Koreas and four major powers.
*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hong-koo