[Viewpoint] Countdown to the year 2012

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[Viewpoint] Countdown to the year 2012


In November 2012, three years from now, the American public will have decided whether or not to re-elect President Barack Obama. That same month, Chinese President Hu Jintao will face a successor. In December of the same year, the presidential election in Korea will decide the successor of the incumbent President Lee Myung-bak.

The next three years will serve as a critical juncture for these leaders to leave their footprints in history. No national leader will ever set himself free from the bondage of racing with eternal history with a short political career.

Most countries on the globe beyond the aforementioned U.S., Korea and China share the idea that next three years will be a period that will determine the future.

Without exception, every country has entered into the competition of adaptation for survival in this period of transition as the world’s balance of power shifts and the need grows for the creation of a new global economic order. In such times, only North Korea sticks to its shocking strategy of ignoring common sense and the customs that drive international society. Thus, Korea, the U.S. and China stand at a critical new juncture on the road to determining the future.

The North’s hard-line stance of forcing relevant countries to reach a conclusion can be explained by the logic of its regime. A historic turning point requires a change of regime for survival. However, North Korea stands on the brink of a precipice by refusing to accept change, reform and the opening of its country. Instead, it has isolated itself from the outside world by stubbornly holding to the maintenance of its regime. It seems that the North has chosen gambling with the possession of nuclear weapons and missile development as a breakthrough to hitting its 60-year-old target - reunification of the Korean Peninsula under the North Korean leadership.

As he considered factors such as geopolitical pressures, the North’s military superiority, political disorder and an increasing pro-North Korea contingent in South Korea, Kim Il Sung could not see that the Republic of Korea would flourish as the only thriving liberal democratic country located on the Korean Peninsula. Part of this is due to the fact that at the time, Asia was overwhelmed by communist powers such as Russia, China, Vietnam and North Korea. Thus, he thought it would be historically right for the two Koreas to achieve reunification under a communist ideology. That dream of Kim Il Sung has justified the North’s dynastic regime over the past 60 years.

The North supposes that the U.S. military presence in South Korea is the only barrier blocking its unification dream. Hence, it has embarked on the risky adventure of developing nuclear weapons in hopes of a full withdrawal of American troops from the peninsula. As shown in a statement released recently by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, its nuclear armament is not aimed at rebuilding ties with America or receiving economic assistance. The North wants to realize reunification under its initiative by pushing the reduction of strategic weapons and establishing a peace treaty that would put it on par with the U.S. By becoming a fellow nuclear power, the North believes it would get rid of the U.S. forces.

Fortunately, the Korea-U.S. summit reaffirmed the United States’ willingness to cope strongly with the North’s reckless threats. The implementation of America’s new diplomatic strategies ambitiously launched by President Obama will face difficulties from the outset if America indulges the North’s risk-taking strategies. Middle East policies and those covering Iran or new denuclearization efforts, including negotiations for a reduction in strategic weapons with Russia, will face a myriad of hurdles. Therefore, the implementation of new North Korea policies featuring strategic dialogue between the U.S. and China will emerge as an inevitable choice.

Meanwhile, China should avoid standing at the crossroads, guided by self-interest. If the North’s risk-taking strategies are ignored for the next three years, China will probably have to accept a Korean Peninsula bristling with nuclear weapons and missiles. China asserts that it will be at the forefront of building an Asian community as it rises as a super-empowered nation. Whether China decides to take a passive stance will be a historic choice.

South Korea’s position on the North’s threats and risk-taking strategies is dualistic. Its primary response is whether the heightened nervousness will threaten the Korean Peninsula.

However, the possibility of reckless behavior by the North could disrupt the possibility of national unification for years to come.

Therefore, we should spare no effort to implement new reunification diplomacy and re-enforce the policy for the reunification of the national community, rather than fear the development of today’s situation.

The next three years will show whether the Korean Peninsula can end its divisions.


The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo

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