[Letters] Crisis or opportunity depends on us

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[Letters] Crisis or opportunity depends on us

Uncertainty is growing over the Korean Peninsula in the new year. The changes of leadership in Korea and her four powerful neighbors are scheduled next year on top of the recent, unexpected death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and subsequent power transfer. We have precedent for concern: Pyongyang caused the first nuclear crisis of 1992-93 during the power transfer from the deceased Kim Il Sung to his son Kim Jong-il.

Therefore, in order to facilitate transition to Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang may attempt a third nuclear experiment or cause a localized military provocation against the South to create tension. However, North Korea is struggling with chronic economic challenges such as shortage of food and energy, so we may have slight hope that Kim Jong-un, who has studied abroad, may give up the nuclear program and choose the way of reform and opening in order to save his people.

A survey was taken on 1,000 North Koreans residing in the North Korea-Chinese border region in the first half of 2009. When asked to choose what path North Korea should take if it collapses, 40 percent chose integration into China, 31.5 percent said North Korea should try to rebuild and revive by itself while a mere 27 percent supported reunification with the South. The North Koreans have low perception of the presence of the South. At this juncture, it is urgent that Seoul promotes a North Korean policy that will win the hearts of the North Korean people and place them in division with their authorities.

The crisis and opportunities after the death of Kim Jong-il depend on how we act. The water can only flow when a ditch is dug. Most of all, humanitarian aid should be provided to the North Koreans and at least the ban on the economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation on civilian level should be lifted to provide a breakthrough in the deadlock in the inter-Korean relationship. And then, we need to have a long-term perspective of at least 20 years and prepare plans, no matter whether North Korea chooses to pursue mutual prosperity, elects not to follow Seoul’s initiative or simply crumbles, leaving Seoul to lead the reunification.

Song Jong-hwan, a visiting professor of North Korean studies at Myongji University and the director of the North Korean Institute.

*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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