[Outlook]Protecting ParkSixty years ago, Koreans voted for lawmakers who would establish the Constitution as if they were participating in an independence movement. The people must have felt the election was very important, as it was to re-establish the country 36 years after it lost its sovereignty.
The people probably felt deeply emotional, once again able to be proud of being Korean nationals. The bond between people of the same nationality is important, but the country itself is even more important because it protects the lives and assets of the people. Paying taxes and voting are ways of expressing trust that the country will protect one’s family, descendents and property.
But the government sometimes forgets its role. The United States are still looking for remains of the soldiers who were killed more than 50 years ago in the Korean War.
The Korean government is afraid to even mention the issue of South Korean prisoners of war living in North Korea, let alone the remains of dead soldiers. South Korean fishermen who were kidnapped by the North have been brushed aside. One becomes enraged when imagining what Washington or Tokyo would have done if the late Park Wang-ja had been a citizen of either of those countries.
When there are no other political intentions, there is no reason for the government to hesitate when protecting the people.
Park was shot to death at around 5 a.m. At 1:30 p.m., more than eight hours later, the incident was reported to the president. North Korea reported the case to Hyundai Asan at 9:20 a.m. The South Korean government seemed to suggest that up until the point when the North delivered the news, the South had no responsibility. Even if we accept that attitude, it took four hours for the news to get to the president. What’s even more unbelievable is that the president suggested dialogue with North Korea as if nothing had happened.
And that was not all. The National Assembly speaker suggested a meeting of parliamentary members of the South and the North and a floor leader of the ruling party suggested a political meeting. The chairman of the ruling party also suggested sending a special envoy to the North and then withdrew the idea. This series of incidents revealed how incompetent and indecisive the government is. In this respect, the bullet that the North Korean military shot on July 11 penetrated not only Park but also the heart of the Lee Myung-bak administration.
International circumstances are rapidly changing surrounding North Korea’s nuclear issue. Some worry that relations between the South and the North may worsen, and if so, the South will be isolated. However, nothing is more important than protecting the people’s lives and assets.
The goal of the Sunshine Policy was to help North Korea become accustomed to international standards and norms. To put it more honestly, it was to establish a market economy in the North and let it get a taste of money. The logic holds that if that happens, we can communicate with the North, just as with China, despite different ideologies. For this reason, South Korea has made a series of concessions.
Now is the time to ask ourselves whether the concessions encouraged the North to break international norms and ask for the impossible. The East Asia Institute maintains that illegal protests have increased in Korea over the past 20 years because through them, demonstrators could get what they wanted. If they staged legal protests, 28.2 percent of their demands were met, but with illegal protests, that number was 42.4 percent. As more protester demands were met if they asked for the impossible, illegal acts were encouraged.
The situation is the same when it comes to the North. Even when it ignores international norms, we just say the North Korean regime never behaved in accordance with common sense anyway. After Pyongyang ignored a joint declaration for nonproliferation, we built a light-water reactor in North Korea and sent it heavy oil and rice. Some even maintained that we should think from the North’s perspective. They argued the North’s invasion of the South was a war for unification and that the North had to develop nuclear weapons for its survival. But with those nuclear arms, the North holds South Koreans hostage. We provided humanitarian aid but it is like we paid a ransom because of North Korea’s threats.
Of course, the recent incident must not block inter-Korean relations. The six-party talks must continue. However, we can’t pretend as if nothing happened. Sightseeing in Mount Kumgang and Kaesong is not so important that we can ignore the death of a South Korean.
The solution is simple. The case must be investigated, and there must be an apology if there is something to apologize for. The incident may have been a complete mistake. If so, there is no reason to avoid a probe. Excluding the authorities from the picture and releasing unconfirmed rumors through civilians can be seen as an attempt to cause conflicts inside the South and to brush the whole thing under the carpet.
An incident of this kind must not happen again. Without a guarantee of that, South Koreans can’t feel safe sightseeing in North Korea.
North Korea has refused to make any contact with the South for a while. It doesn’t want to talk with the Lee administration. However, regardless of the government, the safety of South Koreans must be guaranteed for tourism in Mount Kumgang to continue. It must be guaranteed by an agreement, not by the North’s mercy. If North Korea protected South Korean tourists during the Roh Moo-hyun administration and doesn’t during the Lee administration, it means that the North doesn’t want personal exchanges with the South now.
How can South Koreans invest in the North then? If South Korea doesn’t come up with adequate measures and leaves the safety of the people’s lives and assets to the mercy of the Dear Leader, it doesn’t deserve to call itself a country.
*The writer is the senior political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.