[Viewpoint] Wisdom of a tribe for North Korea?

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[Viewpoint] Wisdom of a tribe for North Korea?

A while ago, I read an interesting story in the magazine Positive Thinking about a unique way of judgment. In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person commits a fault, he is not criticized.

Instead, he is stood at the center of the entire membership of the tribe, who then begin to relay compliments. Each member recalls one good thing that the accused has done.

The ceremony continues several days until all the good things about him are recounted.

The accused would regret his wrongdoing by now and return to the tribe as a good man again. Welcoming him back to the tribe, the village celebrates with a festival. The Babemba tribe is known to have the lowest crime rate in South Africa.

North Korea has requested rice aid because of a food shortage after floods.

President Lee Myung-bak said the government is planning to provide assistance because South Korean citizens enjoy high level of living standard and are watching the North with sympathy. Politicians and farmers groups support giving surplus rice to North Korea.

The government had planned to use the old reserve rice as animal feed, but the plan was opposed and scrapped overnight.

There are signs that the North Korean sanctions announced on May 24 following the Cheonan incident are changing.

It is obvious that North Korea is in a difficult situation. The earth observation center of the Korean intelligence authorities tracks the agricultural production of North Korea through satellites. The accuracy of the analysis has been enhanced since the Arirang-2 satellite with 1-meter resolution was put to use.

Analysis of satellite photography suggests that farming machines were hardly used because of fuel shortage.

North Korea suffered damage from cold weather in April, and frequent rains since late July reduced the sunshine needed for harvest.

While Pyongyang worked hard to import fertilizers from China, it missed the fertilization timing of late May to early June. Dr. Gwon Tae-jin of the Korea Rural Economic Institute estimated that this year’s crop production in North Korea would be below 4 million tons, less than its usual production volume.

Since 2000, Seoul had been providing 300,000 to 400,000 tons of rice to North Korea annually.

The rice from the South made up about half of the total food assistance from countries around the world.

However, the assistance has failed, according to the international standard.

Generally, humanitarian assistance accomplishes its purpose in a year or two. But the chronic food shortage of North Korea is not likely to improve. The sunshine policy of the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations downright ignored the “no access, no food” policy to ensure transparent distribution defined by the United Nations.

North Korea is not a country you can easily help. It is very picky even when receiving help.

During the Roh administration, the Ministry of Unification offered organic fertilizer for free. The ministry offered to provide fertilizer made through fermentation of animal excretion. The organic fertilizer is used in rice paddies and fields to enhance and prevent acidification of the soil.

However, Pyongyang turned down the offer, saying it would not receive “wastes” from the South. Instead, it asked for fast-acting chemical fertilizer. That’s how ignorant and stubborn Pyongyang can be.

No matter how we elevate the pressure on North Korea, we cannot realistically expect Pyongyang to make an apology.

Yet no neighboring country wishes for a sudden collapse of North Korea. At this point, we might want to borrow the wisdom of the Babemba tribe and apply it to North Korean policy. The key element in Babemba tribe’s unique trial system is the reverse thinking. Punishment only leads to hatred.

The Babemba people wisely offer the sinner a justification to repent and provide a way out by showering him with compliments. The Babemba tribe has its eyes set on the ultimate goals of security and harmony of the tribe.

There has never been a better time to engage in talks with North Korea. China is taming North Korea with intermittent assistance. The United States and Japan are increasing pressure. To Pyongyang, South Korea is the only country it can turn to and ask for large-scale rice assistance. If Seoul gives 10,000 tons of rice quietly, it will have no effect. Seoul should make a prominent international statement by giving 500,000 tons or even 1 million tons of rice.

We can demand that Pyongyang guarantee transparent distribution. If such a generous and firm offer is made public, North Korean authorities will not be able to neglect the psychological expectations of the local residents. If our ultimate purposes are peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula, a daring move from the Babemba tribe is not impossible.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Chul-ho
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