[Viewpoint] Seoul’s nearsighted view of the North

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[Viewpoint] Seoul’s nearsighted view of the North

The bizarre state of inter-Korean relations represented by what’s happening to the Kaesong Industrial Complex remind me of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s axiom, “A meridian decides the truth.”

Pascal wrote that “three degrees of latitude reverse all case law; ... It is a strange justice which stops at the first river!” Truth this side of the Pyrenees, he concluded, is false on the other side.

The difference in the meridian between Seoul and Pyongyang is no more than one degree.

Nonetheless, what is right in the South is wrong in the North. The South thinks it has extended its hand for reconciliation, while North Korea thinks the Lee Myung-bak administration is clinging to overtly hostile policies.

It is true that the stalemate in inter-Korean relations - including those issues related to Kaesong and Mount Kumgang - have resulted from North Korea’s domestic problems, which have been caused by Kim Jong-il’s medical condition and his regime’s unreasonable attempt to tame the Lee administration. However, if we keep blaming the North only, the inter-Korean stalemate will not be resolved and the two will not be able to coexist and prosper together.

Inevitably the Kaesong Industrial Complex will close down.

The Lee administration must reverse its methods of resolving problems related to those issues. Seoul wants to resolve the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue by having negotiations to release a worker of Hyundai Asan, who has been detained inside the complex.

Then it wants to keep its mechanism for resolving problems going in order to ease strained South-North relations.

The government’s strategy stems from its nearsighted view of finding the root of the problems on Kaesong in the industrial complex itself.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex issue is only a small part of inter-Korean relations.

North Korea earns $30 million to $40 million annually from the complex. Let’s suppose that North Korea’s demands are met and the annual income becomes $100 million. Of course the sum is not small, considering the North’s tight finances. However, it is a very small amount compared with South Korea’s project to maintain business ties with (or provide aid to) North Korea, signed and agreed to by former President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim on Oct. 4, 2007. That project is worth $11.8 billion.

And here we find a clue to the whole issue.

The North demands that the Lee administration put into practice the June 15 Joint Declaration that presented a vision of cooperation between the South and the North, and the Oct. 4 agreement that detailed how to implement the joint declaration. The demand is not only about the economy but also North Korea’s pride. The North attaches enormous meaning - much more than we can imagine - to the fact that the June 15 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4 agreement are the only two documents that Kim had signed.

In his speech to the National Assembly last year, President Lee said the South and the North should discuss how the joint declaration and the agreement would be implemented. North Korea is unlikely to change its stance against the South, no matter how big the temptation to make money in Kaesong may be, before President Lee puts the joint declaration and the agreement into practice.

A South Korean politician said we can cling to some hope, as North Korea has not dispatched spy submarines or staged a clash in the Yellow Sea - even though it expresses a hard-line stance against the South. North Korea refrains from physical provocation, probably because it is aware that the United States is watching. President Lee ordered the defense minister to be prudent when making remarks about North Korea and postponed participating in the Proliferation Security Initiative as suggested by the foreign and unification ministers. That is probably because Lee saw a possibility of easing relations with the North.

It is encouraging that the president has much more flexible thinking on North Korea issues than his aides. We expect President Lee to make a bold resolution. The anniversary of Liberation Day will come soon. That will be a good chance to give a historic speech accepting the June 15 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4 agreement fully and to state his will to implement them. The conservative camp is likely to protest but the president must overcome it with his political power and a Messianic sense of duty as the country’s leader.

South Korea’s economy is 40 times larger than North Korea’s. An argument that the South is under the North’s thumb is thus flimsy, unless North Korea positions nuclear weapons. In order to prevent this from happening, inter-Korean dialogue must be maintained no matter what.

I hope that President Lee will give a great Liberation Day speech while Kim Jong-il is still in power. That is the right way to implement pragmatism.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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