[Viewpoint] The new great game over Eurasia

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[Viewpoint] The new great game over Eurasia

In his book “The Great Game,” the British journalist and author Peter Hopkirk provided perhaps the most vivid descriptions of Russians’ fear of the Mongol warriors who invaded Eurasia in the 13th century.

“You could smell them coming, it was said, even before you heard the thunder of their hooves. But by then it was too late. Within seconds came the first murderous torrent of arrows, blotting out the sun and turning day into night. Then they were upon you - slaughtering, raping, pillaging and burning. Like molten lava, they destroyed everything in their path. Behind them they left a trail of smoking cities and bleached bones, leading all the way back to their homeland in Central Asia,” he wrote.

The Mongolian invasions left a deep scar on the Russian sensibility. Hopkirk wrote that the scar later translated into Russia’s xenophobia, particularly toward Asians, its aggressive foreign policy and an ascetic acceptance of oppression.

“Arrow, The Ultimate Weapon” is a recently released Korean film, and it has set new blockbuster records day after day. Only two weeks into its release, 3 million people saw the movie. In the movie, Manchurian troops led by Nurhaci’s son Hong Taiji brutally rampage Korea, and the sequence reminded me of Hopkirk’s description.

The Russians’ fears of the Mongolians were probably not much different from the Koreans’ fear of the Manchurians. For the Korean Peninsula, the continent to the north, and for Russia, the continent to the east were the sources of fear. It took hundreds of years for the land of terror to be recognized instead as a land of opportunities.

The leaders of the two Koreas are travelling around Asia at the exact same time. President Lee Myung-bak is visiting Central Asia’s Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is traveling Russia’s Far East aboard a train. Both the timing and the regions they are visiting overlap.

Lee’s trip is focused on economic cooperation. Kim’s visit to Russia also appears to have an economic goal. By visiting Russia, Kim probably wants to hold China in check while attracting Russia’s economic support and investments. The North has declared it will become a “strong, great nation” by 2012, and it wants to maximize its gains from both China and Russia.

Central Asia and Russia’s Far East have undiscovered treasures. They have enormous petroleum and gas reserves and are also rich in minerals. For the two Koreas, northward is the most logical direction to find new economic opportunities. Manchuria, Mongolia, the Maritime Province of Siberia and Siberia’s Far East are vast, undeveloped lands where the 75 million people on the Korean Peninsula can expand economically.

Following Japan, China is rising quickly as a great maritime nation. With an aircraft carrier, China’s Navy will soon have the waters near the Korean Peninsula in its operational range.

North Korea, however, has blocked the South’s northward expansion. As a result, the South has become an island. It can only move northward when the inter-Korean border is opened.

The South cannot just sit with folded arms. It must be cold-heartedly calculating for its future, while holding the North responsible for its deeds.

At this point, the leaders of the two Koreas must realize the reality of the Korean Peninsula. There is no time to quarrel like the cartoon figures Tom and Jerry. The two Koreas must change at the same time. Only a fool would think a reclusive North Korea has any future to speak of.

The only path is to make the bold decision to give up its nuclear programs while gradually opening up and reforming, like China did under Deng Xiaoping.

The Qaddafi regime of Libya did not collapse because it gave up its nuclear arms. It failed because the people and the international community turned their backs on it. The time has come for the Lee administration to show its flexibility toward the North in a far-sighted manner.

Kim must declare his decision to freeze all nuclear programs during his summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He must allow the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to return. If the six-party talks resume, the North may see a breakthrough.

Lee should also reply with a promise to pay the North passage fees if a trans-Siberian gas pipeline is built linking Russia to the South via the North. He must also propose to resume the projects to link inter-Korean roads and railways.

From the northern continent, the Korean Peninsula is nothing more than a small piece of land projecting into the Pacific Ocean. There will be no future if our thinking is trapped on the peninsula. Expectations are high for the two Koreas’ leaders to begin their new “Great Game” to seek a new future in Central Asia and Russia’s Far East.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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