[Viewpoint] The North needs a motive

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[Viewpoint] The North needs a motive

It is a relief that the U.S.-China summit talks in Washington ended without a major hitch. Our worries would have been compounded if the meeting underscored the discord and tension between the two superpowers.

The outcome of the summit - whether it is ultimately positive or negative - tosses a difficult task upon our country. The two nations agreed to steer Pyongyang away from its wayward and roguish path and lure it back to a global framework of negotiations, dialogue and cooperation. However, they came up short in answering the question of how they would do that.

It is inevitably up to South Korea to come up with the solution. We must find a path to bridge the gap on the Korean Peninsula and realign our diplomatic capabilities in its direction.

The kind of global power shifts that used to occur once in a century now occur almost every two decades. Twenty years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall ended the Cold War, a Wall Street-triggered financial meltdown ended the era of a single superpower on the global stage.

Recognizing the evolution of the global power landscape, China changed tactics on the security front since 2008, becoming assertive and aggressive to consolidate its position next to the United States. The two leaders of this new era are now faced with a common imperative of resolving the North Korean conundrum.

In a joint statement, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao reiterated the need for concrete and effective steps to achieve the goal of denuclearization of the North and full implementation of commitments made in the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the six-party talks.

While pledging continued efforts and close cooperation, the U.S. and China underscored the importance of improving inter-Korean relations and agreed that “sincere and constructive” dialogue between the two Koreas was an “essential step.” Now that the ball is in the two Koreas’ court, the way we commit ourselves to future talks can change the balance of who gets the upper hand in Sino-U.S. and inter-Korean relations.

The imperative is now to make the right moves, and to come up with an effective plan to marshall international support to pressure and, at the same time, reward North Korea to play nice.

What can persuade North Koreans to recommit to denuclearization and other obligations more than financial and other tangible aid? It needs a motive. The Pyongyang regime desperately needs a reason to return to negotiating tables on both the inter-Korean and multinational levels, without losing face before its people and the outside world.

What can best spur them to this direction? The Basic Framework Agreement on Inter-Korean ties signed in 1991 and the Joint Statement on Denuclearization in 1992 were the joint work of the two Koreas. But North Koreans can claim that its Eternal President Kim Il Sung took those initiatives and played a leading role in those agreements and that it is their duty to fulfill his legacy through inter-Korean and six-party talks. If North Korea opts for such a path, it would be a positive sign.

It would also be a timely incentive for the Pyongyang regime considering its much touted national campaign to build a powerful and prosperous nation by 2012, which marks the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. At the same time, North Korean leaders would be gaining a much-needed impetus to revive and restore its economy from its devastating state through renewed trade and access to foreign aid.

If North Korea recommits itself to denuclearization, opening up to the world on such grounds, and starts complying with various international agreements, China and the rest of the world would be more than willing to help them out of their dire economic straits.

The path to a very grand common goal such as unification is bound to be long and bumpy. There is no need to raise a public fuss over every bump encountered. We must work on North Korea and international diplomacy quietly, thoroughly and persistently. Washington and Beijing may be waiting for our move.

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

By Lee Hong-koo
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