[Viewpoint]Don’t stir the nestFormer Minister of Unification Chung Dong-young was greatly embarrassed in June 2004, right after he was appointed. North Korea used unbearably harsh language to criticize him, urging him to apologize to the entire Korean nation for verbal faux pas. He found himself in such an awkward position after making comments that did not please North Korea. Chung did not allow South Koreans visiting Pyongyang to make a visit to the monument honoring to the late Kim Il Sung, arguing that such a visit would not help either side. He emphasized a “pragmatic approach in inter-Korean policy,” openly pursuing the opposite of Pyongyang’s “mutual assistance between the South and the North.”
However, about a year later, the situation changed drastically. Chung attended an event celebrating the June 15 2000 Joint Declaration in Pyongyang as the head of the South Korean delegation. He personally met with Kim Jong-il, and citizens got to watch them whispering to each other.
In January 1980, North Korea made a surprise offer to Seoul to hold a prime ministerial meeting. Pyongyang intended to gauge the situation as the two Koreas were going through chaos after the assassination of President Park Chung Hee in 1979. After nine working-level contacts, Pyongyang suddenly declared it would cease contacts, claiming it would not talk to the Seoul regime with blood-stained hands from the Gwangju uprising.
However, three years passed, and the situation changed completely. Pyongyang suggested holding a meeting to discuss forming a single team to represent both the South and the North to compete in the Los Angeles Olympic Games and to hold economic talks. In 1985, Ho Dam, secretary of North Korea’s Workers Party, secretly visited Seoul and delivered a personal letter from Kim Il Sung proposing an inter-Korean summit to former President Chun Doo-hwan.
These two cases illustrate when Pyongyang changes its stance. One time is when it gets what it wants. At Pyongyang’s offensive, Minister Chung turned to appeasement. He said he understood Pyongyang’s ire and expressed his regret. Also, he said North Korean defectors would not be transferred to Seoul in large numbers. He likewise made clear the intention to make large-scale assistance available, including fertilizer. Especially, he conveyed Seoul’s readiness to directly provide 2 million kilowatts of electricity to the North each year.
North Korea’s criticism of Chung melted away.
The other instance is when Pyongyang wants to adapt to rapidly changing domestic and international situations. North Korea needed to break through its international isolation after the 1983 Rangoon bombing. As its economic difficulties became more serious in the early 1980s, North Korean leaders turned their eyes to Chinese-style reform and opening. In order to achieve successful reform, Pyongyang needed to stabilize the inter-Korean relationship through talks with the South. It was in no position to refuse to talk with the Chun Doo-hwan administration, even if it did have blood-stained hands.
President Lee Myung-bak did not deviate from the existing framework of basic North Korea policy in his Liberation Day address. North Korea is demanding that the Lee administration respect and carry out the June 15 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4 2007 Declaration, but President Lee did not mention them.
Considering North Korea’s past behavior, there is little possibility that Pyongyang will back away from its existing stance. This is especially true for the short run. Therefore, the Lee administration’s stance on the North in the future would be worth noting. Will Seoul make concessions to encourage dialogue or adhere to principles?
The Lee administration has been inconsistent in its early days due to an unclear North Korea policy and a reckless and imprudent hard-line attitude. It initially demanded North Korea ask for food assistance, only to backtrack later. At an international conference, it created confusion over the death of a South Korean tourist at Mount Kumgang. But, the administration has finally established its own principle. First, it will discuss the June 15 and Oct. 4 declarations along with other agreements. Second, it will make humanitarian food assistance to the North anytime without a request from Pyongyang. Third, inter-Korean economic cooperation will be pursued in accordance with progress on the North Korean nuclear issue.
President Lee said that there certainly are difficulties between Seoul and Pyongyang, but the inter-Korean relationship will be normalized. Instead of the appeasement policy of Minister Chung, the Lee administration intends to stick to principles.
So it should not be shaken any more. At the same time, the Lee administration should refrain from comments and actions that irritate Pyongyang unnecessarily.
Seoul National University professor Yoon Young-kwan, who served as the first foreign minister in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, emphasizes an “appeasement policy with principles.”
Then Pyongyang will not look down on the South, and we can secure our position in the international community. The Lee administration has to keep this advice in mind throughout its term.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ahn Hee-chang