[Viewpoint] Don’t let emotions get in reason’s way

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[Viewpoint] Don’t let emotions get in reason’s way

After the news of Kim Jong-il’s death was broadcast, I surveyed the reactions of intelligence officials in South Korea and the United States. A high-ranking official from the National Intelligence Service said the agency did not have any advance reports. A CIA official in Seoul said that the CIA had not detected any signs of the dictator’s death before the news broke.

It was just like when Kim Il Sung died in 1994. At the time, the Blue House chief of staff and director of the Agency for National Security Planning had met for lunch and listened to Pyongyang’s announcement. They had no idea what the news would be about. And not much progress has been made in our intelligence operations against the North in the past 17 years.

Intelligence authorities in Seoul and Washington are busy analyzing the situation. They agree that it is a favorable sign that Kim Jong-il’s death was disclosed after 52 hours. While the delay was longer than the delay after his father’s death, which was 32 hours, Pyongyang was relatively quick to break the news internationally. The intelligence authorities believe that internal divisions among the North’s elite are not as serious as expected. Kim Jong-il has been building the succession for two decades. However, it also needs to be taken into consideration that Kim Jong-un, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, was named heir-apparent less than two years ago.

The intelligence agencies in South Korea and the United States are closely watching five people. Kim Jong-il’s sister Kim Kyong-hui and her husband, Jang Song-thaek, boast an extensive network. Kim Ok, who was considered the unofficial first lady, has also emerged as a powerful player. Ri Yong-ho and Kim Yong-chol are leading the military.

Ri Chun-hui, news anchor on Korean Central Television, said in a weepy voice, “We will follow the guidance of wise comrade Kim Jong-un.” But he is a nominal leader for now. It will take considerable time for him to seize actual power. Clearly, North Korea, which has been predictable in a way, is likely to become more unstable and unpredictable.

South Korean society is already experiencing signs of a chasm over Kim Jong-il’s death. The condolences from followers of juche are pathetic, but we need to be wary of an emotional approach to hasten reunification. It is true that a rosy illusion of reunification has dominated society.

However, Professor Ahn Sang-hoon of Seoul National University points out that a sudden collapse of North Korea could be catastrophic. Article 3 of the Constitution states that the territory of the Republic of Korea is the Korean Peninsula and the islands in its territorial waters. Once the South and the North reunify, North Korean residents are automatically entitled to become citizens of the Republic of Korea. If they are not given citizenship, they could launch a constitutional case, which would be decided in their favor.

According to Professor Ahn, this would mean adding more than 10 million households to the welfare rolls. A household of two people is provided with as much as 718,846 won ($615) per month. He asks if our society is prepared to take on the additional burden of 86 trillion won in welfare payments, which would amount to more than 25 percent of the country’s annual budget.

Strictly speaking, North Korea is a target to be controlled stably because it is hostile. Now, the focus should be on how to lead a post-Kim Jong-il North Korea toward denuclearization, reform and opening. Of course, we still cannot forget or forgive the sinking of the Cheonan or the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island. The third-generation power succession is also not desirable. But we need to separate political issues from diplomatic issues. It is time to approach with reason, not emotion. If necessary, South Korea may express condolences to the North in a diplomatic way.

Considering the public sentiment, a government-level visit would not be possible. How about allowing personal calls of condolence? Pyongyang sent a group of officials to pay condolences when former President Kim Dae-jung passed away. It also sent a message of condolence when former President Roh Moo-hyun died. If the former first ladies, Lee Hui-ho and Kwon Yang-sook, hope to visit Pyongyang and give their condolences, the government should grant them permission to visit so long as they conform to Article 4 of the Constitution: “The Republic of Korea pursues a peaceful unification policy based on the basic order of liberal democracy.”

Dealing with North Korea now is crucial to the fate of the nation and involves so much more than the dichotomy of pro-Pyongyang versus anti-Pyongyang. Just like the Tamil proverb, “For the friendship of two, the patience of one is required,” now may be the time for patience toward North Korea.

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

by Lee Cheol-ho
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