[Viewpoint] Bridges or overpasses?

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[Viewpoint] Bridges or overpasses?

Thanks to China, self-proclaimed proxy for North Korea, and an opportunistic Russia, the United Nations Security Council’s condemnation of the Cheonan’s sinking ended up as a lukewarm presidential statement, and now, windingup discussions are taking place.

One of the key points of discussion is what to do about an exit strategy from the Cheonan incident and our reaction.

It was clear from the start that North Korea was not going to apologize for its provocation, so if South Korea sticks to a very hard line it could become an outcast in the international community as other countries try to resume the six-party nuclear talks. Because of that situation, those promoting an exit strategy say Seoul must shift focus as soon as possible.

At the same time, there are many strongly arguing that the South must exert more pressure on the North to make it apologize.

I believe the latter argument will lose force as time goes by. It is, however, premature to discuss an exit strategy at this point because the public is still vividly aware of the sacrifices of the 46 sailors. The government will face an enormous backlash if it just walks away from the tragedy.

In a recent column, North Korea expert Cho Dong-ho said we should build “interchanges and overpasses” between South and North Korea. Cho said the North Korea policies of the Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak administrations all focused on building bridges. The two liberal former presidents thought it would be good to build more and more bridges between the two Koreas, whether they were constructed of wood or stone. President Lee apparently prefers a solid bridge built with reinforced concrete, Cho said, but either way, all three leaders believed in building bridges.

Cho said inter-Korean bridges, however, are not enough to resolve the complex problems on the Korean Peninsula, where the interests of the United States, Japan, China, Russia and the two Koreas collide. So interchanges and overpasses should be built to better accommodate the complex traffic.

Bilateral inter-Korean relations are not enough to resolve the Cheonan’s sinking or bring about stable development of ties. Nor, Cho said, is the U.S.-Korea alliance enough to improve the situation, arguing that Seoul’s North Korea policy must be expanded into a network of complex perspectives, moving past the view of building only bridges.

Cho did not provide any direct recommendation on how to resolve the Cheonan imbroglio. But I think it could be an option to use his argument to gradually move away from the tragedy. Furthermore, I think Cho’s idea is more than rhetoric, and it has potential to bring about a new turning point on the Korean Peninsula when it is properly developed into a policy enriched with strategies.

In fact, Cho’s idea is an issue that has long been discussed by many North Korea policy makers, although Cho used a fresh metaphor. And yet, the question is will such a strategy be effective when a crisis arises, such as the Cheonan’s sinking? If we see the situation with a broader perspective, Cho’s idea could be an alternative.

Whether it is the Cheonan sinking or the nuclear crisis, resolving problems becomes impossible because the interests of the countries involved in the Korean Peninsula are not being adjusted properly. Many believe that conflicting interests can only be resolved when one party suffers damage while the others enjoy benefit.

Such a view will only exacerbate problems, rather than resolving the situation. Conflicts of interests are better resolved through coordination and mediation. To this end, Cho’s argument is an insightful approach, because a well-built overpass interchange diverts traffic effectively to prevent jams.

The dilemma of the Cheonan’s sinking is deepening day by day. Those supporting tough measures and others calling for an exit strategy continue to confront each other, creating unnecessary unease among the public.

The Alexandrian solution — cutting the Gordian Knot — could be a way of solving an intractable problem. We, however, do not have the power of Alexander the Great to cut the knot with a bold stroke. No superpower of today — whether it is the U.S. or China — enjoys such power.

At this point, the only method we can choose is adjusting the interests on the Korean Peninsula and diverting them to make sure there will be no more collisions. How about beginning to create a blueprint for an overpass interchange with the goal of preventing traffic jams for the decades to come?

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo and the head of the Unification and Culture Research Institute of JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kang Young-jin
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