[Outlook]Our own drummerWhen China and the United Stated ended hostile relations in the late 1970s, Kim Il Sung was in deep trouble. It was a serious shock that North Korea’s blood ally established relations with the imperialist United States. It was even more so because China and the United States normalized ties when North Korea’s national power started to be surpassed by South Korea. To overcome difficulties, Kim decided to normalize ties with the United States. Just as China resolved the Taiwan issue by normalizing ties with Washington, Kim believed that if Pyongyang could normalize ties with Washington, the situation with South Korea would be reversed.
Kim constantly asked China to play the role of mediator between Pyongyang and Washington. In a meeting with Hua Guofeng in 1978, Kim revealed his will to have direct negotiations with the United States to build a federation system with South Korea. But Hua didn’t give any reply and only emphasized cooperation between China and North Korea, which didn’t carry much meaning.
In a meeting with Deng Xiaoping in 1981, Kim asked more explicitly for China to mediate between North Korea and the United States. Kim said, “We need to normalize relations with the United States and we hope that China will help improve the ties between the two countries.” But Deng refused Kim’s request in a roundabout way, according to Oh Jin-yong’s book, “China, the Soviet Union and South and North Korea During Kim Il Sung Period.”
North Korea’s attempts to normalize ties with the United States didn’t bring about any results. Besides, as it turned out that a North Korean agent exploded KAL flight 858, North Korea was listed by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In this sense, Kim Jong-il has fulfilled one of his father’s wishes as North Korea was removed from the list last week. The move doesn’t bring any concrete benefits but it is a diplomatic victory for North Korea. It can’t be a simple coincidence that when North Korea was taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, Kim’s photos were released for the first time in nearly two months. This was intended to parade Kim’s achievement before North Koreans.
Meanwhile, South Korea finds itself in a weird situation. First of all, it must decide how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear issues. The issue has been a major concern since the 1993 North Korea nuclear crisis.
Since then, it has been regarded as a matter that should be handled by North Korea and the United States. Looking at negotiations during the last 15 years, the results can be said to be concessions from the United States.
The Bill Clinton administration, which handled the first North Korea nuclear crisis, even threatened to wage war, if need be. However, key issues for abolishing North Korea’s nuclear programs were put aside and the Clinton administration agreed to build a light-water reactor in return for North Korea freezing nuclear programs.
It was similar or worse for the George W. Bush administration. It shouted a hard-line policy but it has abandoned its principles. It played up the Banco Delta Asia incident because North Korea was counterfeiting U.S. bills, but it gave up in the end.
The Bush administration raised its voice and said the uranium enrichment program and North Korea’s cooperation with Syria to pass along nuclear technology should be declared, but in the end it accepted separate declarations.
Things were the same for negotiations to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In the beginning, the United States said facilities that North Korea didn’t declare must be evaluated, but in the end it withdrew its demand.
This time, the United States even agreed to leave effective evaluation to North Korea’s goodwill, a rather strange decision.
Of course, cooperation with the United States is necessary to make North Korea abandon its nuclear development programs. But the United States’ attitude so far signals that South Korea will probably have to make an independent judgment and response at some point. Amid ever-changing international politics, South Korea’s interests can be different from the United States’ in the Northeast Asian region. The United States doesn’t have its own territory in the region, after all.
Therefore, if the United States keeps South Korea as an ally and improves relations with North Korea, it can compensate for its weak points and exert its influence on China, Russia and Japan. Ultimately, it means that it is not entirely impossible that the United States will accept North Korea’s possession of nuclear arms. Regardless of improved ties between North Korea and the United States, South Korea should prepare an emergency plan regarding North Korea’s nuclear issues.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ahn Hee-chang