[Outlook]If the North collapses
A sudden collapse of the North Korean regime is a delicate matter that we need to approach with great care. It poses a serious threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and will obviously have an impact on inter-Korean relations. There are several points that should claim our attention.
The latest headlines about the health problems facing the communist country’s leader, Kim Jong-Il, make many people deeply concerned about the peninsula’s future. A variety of opinions exists on what attitude China will adopt if an emergency breaks out in North Korea. There have been ensuing security worries over this issue for the past two or three years.
I had the opportunity to discuss China’s diplomatic relations with several top experts while in Beijing. Even though there is a diversity of opinion in China about how to cope with this problem, they have adopted a planned and rational approach.
They said that even though it is a fact that the Sino-North Korea relationship has been sharply weakened due to North Korea’s nuclear experiments and missile tests in 2006, North Korea still carries a great deal of significance as a traditional Chinese ally. However, they also mentioned that the Sino-South Korean relationship saw some great progress since it was normalized in 1992.
They added that, in case of an emergency, China should consult the relevant countries, including Korea, beforehand. An expert also said that the number of flights between China and South Korea exceeds 800 a week, while the number between China and the North is five at most.
A group of prominent American experts on Korea I met said that South Korea’s stance on the future of the Korean Peninsula is the most important factor to be considered in deciding American foreign policies on this issue. America will watch South Korea’s response if an emergency occurs on the peninsula, and will cope with the issue accordingly.
With the global response to the sudden collapse of the Pyongyang regime in mind, you’ll understand how I feel somewhat bitter and powerless. The world is paying due attention to Korea and is anxiously waiting to see how the South will deal with a North in turmoil, saying that it is one of the most important matters shaping their foreign policy.
However, I think we don’t have the slightest idea about how to base our stance firmly on a national consensus, nor how to persuade the global community.
We do nothing but worry about what we should do. We do not even realize the urgent need to prepare appropriate strategies and tactics, and to reshape diplomatic relations with neighboring countries with the firm commitment to lead the future of the Korean Peninsula.
It seems to me that, trapped by the ambiguous power politics of strong countries, we take our problem too lightly, as if it were not our own.
Of course, Korea is a relatively small country compared to its neighbors. However, we are no longer the poor nation which was a colony of Japan a century ago, and half a century ago waged a war and was at the point of starvation. We boast the 12th largest economy in the world.
However, what should make us worry is that our awareness could remain stuck in a rut of victimization, as if we were still struggling to survive the dire conditions of 100 or 50 years ago. If it does, we will really have no future.
It is dangerous to overestimate our own power and live under the illusion that we can do anything we want. This is may lead to imprudent diplomatic judgment. However, what is more dangerous is to surrender ourselves to despair, saying that as we are a small country, we have no choice but to be taken away blindfolded by stronger nations.
China is our strategic partner. A Chinese diplomatic expert recently said that the Chinese government proposed to add the word “strategic” to our relationship to show that it considers South Korea one of its most important partners.
They are well positioned to cooperate with us in dealing with comprehensive international affairs. In addition, China has officially announced that it will continue to support and assist in the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula whenever opportunity knocks. This stance is connected to China’s policy toward Taiwan.
If China takes any extreme measures on the Korean Peninsula against the will of Koreans, it could pose a serious threat to China’s diplomacy. It will be in further trouble if it throws down the gauntlet against the United States, Korea’s ally. Such a move would certainly result in more harm than benefit.
Of course, China will want to maximize its profit on the Korean Peninsula. And it will be in a position to pursue diplomatic possibilities in order to realize the hopes of Koreans and Americans at the same time, while also reflecting its own interests. Now is the time to carry out research on possible strategies and tactics to tackle this issue. What we should be extremely cautious about is our feeling of defeatism.
*The writer is a professor of international politics at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Young-kwan