[Viewpoint] Bringing North Korea back to earth

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[Viewpoint] Bringing North Korea back to earth

The death of high-profile North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop, architect of North Korea’s bedrock ideology of juche, or self-reliance, and the start of a third-generation hereditary power succession in North Korea have formed the last act in the reclusive regime’s saga.

Pyongyang has pulled down the pillars of Marxism, Leninism, and even its self-developed juche ideology to complete the foundations for an absolute dynastic rule that’s made possible through the military’s backing and the regime’s songun, or military-first, policy.

The country is finished with experimenting with socialism and communism. The lofty ambition of integrating a nationalistic self-identity with the idealist pursuit of an egalitarian society through class dissolution never could have worked anyway with such a self-serving North Korean leadership.

Then what does the emergence of a new leadership that has ripped away its hypocritical ideological disguises and blatantly governs by muscle suggest for the Korean race and its future?

North Korea has pronounced the crowning of Kim Jong-un as heir apparent as a pivotal step in building a “strong and powerful nation” by 2012, making the next two years a most volatile and significant transitional period for the country as well as its neighbors.

The year 2012 will serve as a turning point to all concerned parties, with presidential elections in South Korea and the United States and a planned power shift the following year in the Chinese Communist Party leadership from current President Hu Jintao.

In divining the future, it is important to understand the flow of history as much as the cruces of time. The rise and fall of a state and race can depend on current they choose to ride among the main, peripheral or even backward flows of time.

It is not difficult to name those who played major roles in the 20th century. The West overpowered the East in the imperial era, and then it were the coalition forces that rose to power after defeating Germany and Japan at the end of the two World Wars. The Soviet Union-led totalitarian communist forces and U.S.-led democratic states dominated the stage during the Cold War period.

The succeeding watershed moments during the last two decades - Germany’s unification, the breakup of the Soviet bloc and the toppling of autocratic systems via democratic movements - built the age of “soft power,” when the size of a state’s economy defined its place more than military power or governing ideology.

Deng Xiaoping was sharp in reading the flow of history and quick in reforming China’s policies so it could open up to the outside world. China’s rapid economic and social progress over the last generation and its rise in global status have awed and menaced the world. China, Vietnam and many other Asian countries have endured pain and struggles for the last century and are now moving toward prosperity and the world stage through opening and reform.

Only North Korea remains stranded. If it does not meet us halfway, the gap and conflict between the two Koreas will become deeper and wider. The problems will slow down South Korea no matter how much it endeavors to move forward through modernization and democratization, or through hosting major international events like the Olympics, World Cup and G-20 Summit. The goal of unification will drift further from reach, and tensions will only intensify. The ruins of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan, sunk by a North Korean torpedo in March, poses a sobering reminder of our reality.

It may be almost impossible to draw a stubborn, self-exiled and hermitic dictatorship back into the main currents of the contemporary world. But tackling this challenge is the only way to find a future in which the entire Korean race can live in peace and co-prosperity.

Fortunately, the North Koreans still have a secret exit route from hermitic stagnation - the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement and Joint Declaration of Denuclearization. If North Korea chooses this path, it will find itself embraced by South Korea, China and the entire international community. North Korea would be able to start riding the world’s forward-moving current.

The central players in today’s world must strive to figure out how the globalization of the world economy can bring out the best possible changes in the political, social and cultural realms.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao set the right example by stressing the need for political reform in parallel to economic advancement. China’s domestic endeavors in this realm can contribute to the peace and co-prosperity of the East Asian region.

We hope the upcoming G-20 Summit will serve as a platform for South Korea and China to display a partnership in bringing order to the global financial system and bringing a guiding light to draw North Korea back into the world we live in.

*The writer is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hong-koo
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