[Outlook]Be prepared

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[Outlook]Be prepared

On the night of May 26, an urgent message from China came to the editorial bureau. It said that Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, had died of a heart attack. While checking the veracity of the message with high officials and other authorities, we prepared articles just in case the news did turn out to be true. When Kim Il Sung died, we were able to run articles without problems thanks to such preparations. But what measures have the government prepared for this event? Are the people ready? The time is approaching, but we may be hopelessly unprepared when the event actually takes place.

Nobody knows what is going to happen in the future. But we have to examine the present and draw up a variety of possible scenarios based on those studies. We should also add our goals and visions to those scenarios so that we are not just prepared for eventualities, but are actively forming a desirable future. This strategy must be applied to inter-Korean relations. When we are well prepared, we won’t panic when urgent incidents or changes occur in North Korea.

There was a lot of potential for the Lee Myung-bak administration to get a good start on the issue of inter-Korean relations. As suspicions about the North Korea policies of the former left-wing governments had been cleared up, the new administration could have implemented a blanket North Korea policy. It could have been more comprehensive than that of the former right-wing administrations as well as the Sunshine Policy of the past decade. But the Lee government has been spending months deciding whether or not to enter into dialogue with North Korea.

In his inauguration speech, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” The former Korean government desperately wanted to begin talks with North Korea, fearing the possibility of a war. It was exactly what Kennedy had said people should not do ? negotiating out of fear. Now, the incumbent administration fears entering into talks because it worries if it does, it will appear similar to its predecessor.

The goal of negotiations is to talk somebody into doing what you want him to do. Success comes when one side perceives that it can also benefit from what the other side wants. Thus, it is more important to first have leverage over the other side than to begin dialogue without being prepared. We have such leverage over North Korea ? our economic strength. If our financial position is not powerful enough, we can draw in oil money to help revive North Korea’s economy. When drawing up a North Korea policy we should focus on how to ready our leverage and how to use it. When dialogue has been cut off, as it is now, we can’t do anything, even if we do have useful means of persuasion if sudden incidents take place in the North.

Henry Kissinger once expressed his interest in the power of China in an interview with the Financial Times. He said China is the only country in the world that has maintained independence over several thousand years, with a constant economic and geopolitical influence over East Asia. Looking at the Chinese government’s response to the violent demonstration of Chinese students in Seoul, or its disrespectful remarks about the Korea-U.S alliance, it seems the Chinese truly believe that China is the Korean Peninsula’s suzerain.

When North Korea is without a leader, can we prevent China from getting involved in the matter? Would the North Korean regime and citizens not prefer China to South Korea? If China intervenes in North Korean territory, what would happen to the reunification of Korea? Considering these issues, the role of the United States on the Korean Peninsula becomes even more important.

Just before former Japanese Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi resigned, he visited U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House. While there, the Japanese leader said that Koreans are suspicious of their neighbors, including China, because of their history. In this regard, both South and North Korea think the United States has an important role as a peacekeeper in the region, he added. That is the same context under which Kim Jong-il accepted that U.S. soldiers should remain on the Korean Peninsula, even after reunification.

South Korea is currently in chaos over the U.S. beef import issue. It seems that the people are excessively clinging to a domestic issue while failing to see the tsunami headed for the peninsula. What is going on inside North Korea? What possible scenarios are we ready for when something happens there? Do we have a vision for reunification? Which countries should we cooperate with? The time is nearing constantly. We should open our eyes and ears. We can miss a chance all too easily if we are not prepared.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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