[Viewpoint] Groundless arguments backfire

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[Viewpoint] Groundless arguments backfire

‘I was so frustrated that I thought about proposing to Kim Jong-il that he go into exile. I thought about offering him a large sum of money and a guarantee of safety for him and his family if he left for a foreign country, for the sake of the Korean people,” a Democratic Party lawmaker once told me privately.

“No matter how hard our party tries to steer inter-Korean relations smoothly, when we think about Kim there’s no response to our efforts,” said the lawmaker, a member of the 386-generation who were born in the 1960s and were instrumental in the democracy movement of the 1980s.

“Kim is the divine punishment for our party.”

As the deploring lawmaker confessed, the Democratic Party has been cheated by Kim and North Korea several times.

The Kim Dae-jung administration tried to engage the North with the Sunshine Policy, but the communist regime returned the favor with two naval skirmishes in the Yellow Sea.

Even though it caused discord with the United States, the Roh Moo-hyun administration continued Kim’s engagement policy, but what North Korea gave him in return were missile and nuclear tests. Three days after Roh’s death last May, the North conducted its second nuclear test, almost as if it were an artillery salute for the late former president.

The first anniversary of Roh’s death falls tomorrow, right after the South Korean government announced the results of the international experts’ probe into the sinking of the Navy warship Cheonan.

The investigation team concluded that a North Korean torpedo attack was responsible for the patrol corvette’s sinking, and the outcome once again put a serious damper on the Democratic Party’s efforts to take advantage of voters’ sentiment for Roh ahead of the June 2 local elections.

For the past two months, the Democratic Party has tried to turn a blind eye to North Korea’s provocation. It made groundless claims that the Cheonan had hit a rock, and even that an accidental bombing by the U.S. military had sunk the ship.

It is unlikely that the Democrats were trying to protect the North with such unreasonable arguments because they love the regime. The Democrats made their claims because the party has no philosophy and strategy on how to deal with North Korea, and it was too lazy to make the effort to come up with one.

It is hard to find Democratic Party leaders who try to understand the rapidly changing reality of North Korea and forecast its future moves. When drawing up a North Korea policy, it is crucial to consider the United States, China and Japan, but the Democrats lack such insight.

The Democratic Party has lawmakers who are foreign affairs and security experts, including a former foreign minister and a retired four-star general. Some of them think it is time for the South to raise its voice to the North when necessary, and the party’s North Korea policy must be readjusted to reflect the changed reality.

And yet they were unable to speak up, perhaps because they were stopped by the stereotypical idea that they must put the party’s identity and their supporters’ preferences before their beliefs.

Because the Democratic Party lacks a serious understanding and a farsighted view on North Korea, it automatically protects the North whenever the communist regime carries out an irrational provocation, and it criticizes the South Korean government in order to hold onto its political base. The Democrats must reflect deeply on this pattern of behavior, and repent for it.

The Democratic Party worries that the North’s involvement in the Cheonan tragedy will unite conservative voters against them, but Korean voters are smart enough to not make a decision based on just that single incident. It’s more likely that the Democrats’ tactic of ignoring the scientifically proven outcome and stubbornly insisting on groundless arguments will backfire.

It is only natural for the Democratic Party, which upholds the philosophy of the late President Kim, to emphasize the importance of engaging the North and holding a dialogue with the regime.

The real engagement, however, is not turning a blind eye to North Korea’s undisputable provocation. That will only encourage its bad habits and increase the chances of further aggression. It will also strengthen the position of those who are against the engagement policy.

What the Democratic Party must do right now is clear.

The Democratic Party of the United States and the Democratic Party of Japan both made public their trust and support for the probe into the Cheonan’s sinking.

Korea’s Democrats must follow suit and urge North Korea to admit to its wrongdoing and apologize. It won’t be too late to promote the engagement policy toward the North after the fallout from the Cheonan’s sinking has settled.

*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Chan-ho

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