[Viewpoint] The fateful moment, part twoOn April 26, 2010, about a month after the sinking of the Cheonan, I wrote a column titled “The fateful moment of the Korean Peninsula.” Deng Xiaoping and Mikhail Gorbachev were able to successfully reform and open up their respective countries because their leadership was not based on personal worship and corruption.
However, Kim Jong-il is different. His rule is driven by personal worship and corruption, which will be inherited by Kim Jong-un. When North Korea opens up and is reformed, its people will have access to the truth, and it will mean an end to Kim Jong-il and his son. As such, Kim Jong-il cannot afford opening and reform.
Because of structural limitations, Kim Jong-il opted for the hard track of brinkmanship, instead of the soft track of denuclearization and opening. The hard track was to become a nuclear power and threaten the United States and its southern counterpart.
The Agreed Framework, the six-party talks and the inter-Korean summit meeting were disguised moves on the hard track. The attack on the Cheonan revealed Pyongyang’s true intentions. Therefore, I insisted that Seoul should not be lured by the fantasy of progress like the six-party talks and must reconsider its North Korean policy entirely to get prepared for the “fateful moment of the Korean Peninsula.”
However, South Korean society was extremely divided. The Democratic Party, the biggest opposition, even objected to the resolution denouncing North Korea’s responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan. Progressive and leftist intellectuals suspected the government and defended Pyongyang. A politician who wants to be the presidential candidate for the progressive faction in the 2012 election even claimed that the explosion was “fictitious.”
Many liberals argued that Seoul should put an end to the case of the Cheonan. Upon returning from a visit to North Korea, University of Georgia Professor Park Han-shik, a North Korea expert, insisted on concluding the Cheonan investigation, as North Koreans confidently believe that they were not involved.
Internal division in South Korea is exactly what Kim Jong-il had hoped for. A North Korean torpedo struck the ideological blind spot of the South as it hit the Cheonan warship.
Had the Democratic Party joined the voice of condemnation and had progressive intellectuals harshly condemned the brutal act, Pyongyang might not have proceeded with another provocation. The divided sentiment is largely responsible for the loss of four lives on Yeonpyeong Island.
Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been ousted, and Mubarak’s 30-year-long dictatorship has been toppled. The people of Egypt saved the country from a two-generation power succession. The spirit of revolution is still alive. The wind of change is spreading around the world.
Will Kim Jong-il be an exception to the revolutionary changes?
Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il successfully blocked the huge democratic waves of the Eastern European communist states in 1989. Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, was executed, but the Kim Il Sung regime experienced little disturbance.
However, times have changed. Twenty-two years have passed since then, and North Korea is now more corrupt and more starved. “Rice” is the hottest topic among both the government and the people. Charcoal-powered cars are operating in North Korea today. Lately, a fishing boat floated into the waters near Yeonpyeong Island, and 31 North Koreans were onboard the small, wooden boat. Even the people of Somalia would not use such a shabby boat. The rundown boat may be the last leaf signaling the end of the Kim Jong-il regime.
Of course, there is no way of knowing the timing and the process of the collapse. However, history teaches us a lesson. Kim Jong-il cannot give up his touted nuclear program or pursue opening and reform. All dialogues are inevitably a disguise. A regime has reached the limit of starvation and suffering, making a power succession to the third generation impossible. We don’t know when, but when a levee breaks, it will fall in no time.
In January 1989, General Secretary of East Germany Erich Honecker said, “The wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years.” However, the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9 in the same year. And Germany was reunified on October 3, 1990.
The fateful moment may be fast approaching. Just like the North Korea torpedo that hit the Cheonan, the time may strike absent-minded Koreans abruptly. Sudden change in North Korea and the unification process will change the lives of South Koreans completely.
The wave may swallow up all at once the controversy over constitutional amendments and free welfare.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin