[Letters] The best negotiation with North Korea

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[Letters] The best negotiation with North Korea

There have been only two people in history who won in the negotiation with communists: Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan-Yew and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Lee made a deal with the communists, but when he came into power, he removed the communists completely. At the Reykjavik Summit in 1987, Reagan displayed a mighty diplomatic capacity and pressured Mikhail Gorbachev, the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to end the Cold War.

Except for the triumphs of Lee Kuan Yew and Ronald Reagan, you can hardly find an example of any gain after sitting at the negotiating table with a communist. At the Yalta Conference, Stalin pursued a dilatory tactic and pressured ailing U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. As a result, the 38th parallel was set to divide the Korean Peninsula. When the Communist Party of China was driven away to Yan’an, Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang almost annihilated the Communist Party. However, Chiang was convinced by Zhou Enlai’s cleaver tactic and agreed to make the second United Front. In the end, Chiang lost mainland China to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party. Unfortunately, Korea is not an exception. In 2000, the South Korean president visited Pyongyang and had a summit meeting with the North Korean leader. It seemed that the war clouds over the Korean Peninsula had disappeared. However, more than a decade later, we are left with a North Korean nuclear threat, not close to attaining peace.

Similar failure was repeated at the recent inter-Korean military talks. North Korea conducted torpedo and artillery attacks in the Yellow Sea and then initiated military talks. Then it walked away from the negotiating table. Of course, it was followed by insults and attacks from Pyongyang, calling the South “traitors.” And Seoul responded, “The door for dialogue is still open, and you can always come back to the table when you change your mind.”

This is not the way to deal with Pyongyang. South Korea has been harassed by North Korea’s dirty deception, brinkmanship and blackmailing. To Lee Seon-gwon, the leader of the North Korean delegates, a negotiation is a war without arms. In the negotiation, North Korea engages in a verbal war while South Korean delegates take a step back and make compromises for the greater good. But to Lee Seon-gwon, making a concession in a negotiation means a retreat in a war.

Professors Howard Raiffa and Roger Fisher of Harvard University studied how to deal with an unethical negotiation partner. Research found that when you negotiate fairly with a partner using unethical tactics, you will lose without an exception. Therefore, it is best not to have negotiations with such a partner, and if you must talk, you should use a similar tactic and handle the partner aggressively.

It is still not too late to change our attitude and strategy in the negotiation with North Korea. The best negotiation with North Korea is to not have one at all. Two days after walking out of the talks, Pyongyang sent a letter to four political parties in the South to have talks. As long as North Korea does not change its habit, Seoul should never talk, even if Washington and China urges us.

However, if North Korea takes a different attitude and truly wants to talk with the South, Pyongyang may be able to get more positive responses on economic assistance, such as food aid and resumption of interborder tourism. We all hope to see a true spring on the Korean Peninsula as Seoul and Pyongyang have a heart-to-heart conversation.

Ahn Se-young, a professor and the director at the Institute of International and Area Studies at Sogang University.


*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.

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