[Viewpoint] Another gloomy month of AugustThe foreign policy of the Joseon Dynasty was based on a principle of serving the great and powerful and maintaining amicable relations with neighbors. Joseon offered tributes to China and pursued an appeasement policy with Japan and the Jurchens.
Was Joseon servile and shameless? Sometimes Joseon yielded to more powerful neighbors, but other times, it risked the fate of the kingdom and fought back. Joseon always chose the most effective and feasible survival tactic, considering its strength and international politics at the time. The Xiongnu, the Xianbei and the Khitans had swept through Central Asia and mainland China with their military might, but the countries of these tribes are nowhere to be found today.
It is easier to stand tall and die; living through painful days indeed requires true wisdom and courage. As a small peninsula situated between major powers of the continent and the ocean, Korea has maintained a creative culture, an original language and an inventive writing system, defending its territory and developing with miraculous vitality unprecedented in the history of humanity.
Korea’s ancestors might never have learned the theories of international politics, but they saw through the solemn reality that the existence of a nation was determined by power dynamics, not ideologies and principles. Before we had the grand dream of being the “balancer of East Asia” recently, our ancestors had the same wisdom for generations. Those who frequently advocate “self-reliance” and “independence” today would never understand this insight.
In pursuing a new form of state capitalism under the banner of socialism, China has become a G-2 power. China appears bent on repeating the path of old colonial empires by occupying territories of other ethnic groups such as the Mongols, the Tibetans and the Uyghur by force and suppressing their independence movements. It is disturbing enough to deal with Japan’s greedy ambition over the Dokdo islets. But now China eyes Ieo Island, the southernmost island of the Korean Peninsula.
China, which had trampled on the fledgling Republic of Korea, has North Korea as a tributary state and is eager to absorb the history of Korea as a part of its borderland history through the Northeast Project pursued by the Chinese Academy of Social Studies. North Korea, a “self-reliant” descendent of the Goguryeo Dynasty, is unbecoming of its self-proclaimed legacy as it remains silent when China is trying to swallow the history of Goguryeo.
North Korea is not the only one trying not to upset China. The Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibet, travels all over the world to advocate on behalf of Tibet. However, he is yet to visit Korea because of the cowardice attitude of the Korean government.
Those who had overlooked North Korea’s Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) base - only 30km (18.6 miles) from Baekryeong Island - are opposing the construction of a Jeju naval base, a vantage point for marine hegemony, as it may irritate China.
Those who made groundless accusations of mad cow disease about U.S. beef imports are not lighting up the candles to protest substandard Chinese food imports. Those who had fought to defend human rights don’t seem to be bothered by China’s inhumane response of repatriating North Korean defectors to be executed.
“Trust no future, however pleasant. Let the dead past bury its dead. Act, act in the living present!” advises Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He hardly meant we should neglect the future and the lessons of history. Instead, we should never be blinded by the illusion of old ideology and deny the here and now. Moreover, he was reproaching those who admire the spectre of socialism and deny the identity and history of their own country.
When China was at the height of prosperity and power, our Korean ancestors sought to use the situation wisely, much less surrendering to China blindly. Even during the dark period under Imperial Japan, our ancestors fought for independence and had a dream to become more advanced than Japan.
August is the month of independence and the founding of the republic.
Aug. 15 should be the biggest celebration of the country, but it has been considered a day of two separate ceremonies due to ideological discord. We should not let Liberation Day be a gloomy festivity again.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The writer is a partner at Hwang Mok Park, P.C. and former head of the Seoul Central Court.
by Lee Woo-keun