[Outlook]Exclusion concernsIf North Korea blows up the cooling tower attached to the Yongbyon nuclear facility and the explosion is broadcast live by U.S. media, it would be an ideal way for the North to display its determination to denuclearize. This was unimaginable during the first term of the George Bush administration, when neoconservatives dominated North Korea policy. Now, it seems it is only a matter of time until it becomes a reality. Government sources said on May 26 that North Korea will destroy the cooling tower of the Yongbyon nuclear facility between late May and early June, and that the United States will remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
North Korea’s nuclear facility has actually been disabled. The destruction of the cooling tower was a sign that North Korea wanted to show the world, the Bush administration and other conservatives and hardliners in the United States that it means business.
An even bigger obstacle than the disablement of the nuclear facility is how to reflect the country’s uranium-enrichment program and sale of nuclear substances and technology to Syria on the North’s declaration of nuclear activities. But as Israel fully destroyed Syria’s nuclear facility, this is no longer an important issue. The uranium-enrichment program had been the only remaining problem. Then, Kim Gye-gwan and Christopher Hill met in Singapore last month and tentatively agreed on the issue.
Since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the United States has banned trade and financial transactions with North Korea entirely under the Trading with the Enemy Act and the export control act. Then, when it blew up a Korean Airline flight in 1987, the United States put North Korea on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Due to these harsh sanctions by the United States, North Korea’s economic activities have been significantly limited in international society. What North Korea wants most is to be removed from the U.S. list and to be freed from the Trading with the Enemy Act. In January of last year in Berlin, the United States and North Korea had a direct dialogue for the first time, agreeing that North Korea would abandon its nuclear ambitions and the United States would remove it from the terrorism list. The agreement is about to result in tangible outcomes.
As U.S.-North Korean dialogue has improved, some worry that the North will try to exclude the South. However, this is a groundless worry. How will South Korea be isolated and by which country?
What would be truly worrisome is if both inter-Korean relations and U.S-North Korean relations were deadlocked and the North continued to develop nuclear arms. When the South and the North were on good terms, the North carried out a nuclear test in an attempt to bring the United States to the negotiation table, and it worked. North Korea wouldn’t break the six-party agreement or the accord with Washington, as it is expecting to get tremendous political and economic benefits from normalization of ties with the United States.
In 1975, Henry Kissinger, then secretary of state, suggested in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly that China and the Soviet Union recognize South Korea and the United States and Japan recognize North Korea. In the early 1990s, South Korea normalized ties with China and Russia. But U.S. and Japanese ties with North Korea still haven’t been normalized. In 1993, the Kim Young-sam administration told Washington that it should improve ties with North Korea without worrying about South Korea. The Kim Dae-jung administration did the same. The Roh Moo-hyun administration said that South-North relations would follow half a step behind U.S.-North Korea ties.
It is thus narrow-minded nonsense to worry that South Korea will be left out just because a U.S.-North Korea agreement is likely to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue. South Korea should instead push the United States and Japan to improve or even normalize their ties with the North.
The Lee Myung-bak administration doesn’t have a comprehensive North Korea policy, except the president’s “denuclearization and opening the doors of North Korea 3,000” pledge that he made when running for office. As for food aid to North Korea, the Unification Ministry says one thing and the Foreign Ministry says another. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mentioned a preemptive attack on North Korea’s nuclear facility.
But as long as South Korea-U.S. relations are in good shape, there is no need to worry about being isolated. Even if North Korea tries to exclude us, we have nothing to lose. We can make our own decisions while sticking to the basic principles that we provide food to help starving North Korean residents and that we help with the North’s denuclearization process.
The Lee administration’s North Korea policy will emerge after the president has finished visiting the United States, Japan, China and Russia. The closer North Korea and the United States get, the more abstract and vague the worries about South Korea becoming isolated will become. If that happens in reality, we should take our time to establish a comprehensive North Korea policy, which would be a much more practical way to respond.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie