We must talkNorth Korea’s bellicose threats show no sign of going away. The ruling and opposition parties are urging the North to refrain from escalating tension. At the same time, many politicians disagree with the idea of starting a dialogue by sending a special envoy or a messenger. They said it could give the North the wrong signal and encourage its wayward behavior.
But it is imperative to deliver to the North the new president’s blueprint for an inter-Korean relationship. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is an unknown entity, and the North also sees President Park Geun-hye as an unverified leader. Over the past years, the two Koreas have had no dialogue channel, official or private. It has been an extremely abnormal and strange relationship.
Therefore, we must contact the North, whether by special envoy or a messenger, to explain the new president’s philosophy and stop the current situation from growing into a volatile confrontation.
Even before her inauguration, Park stressed repeatedly that talks still need to take place even during war. She knows the importance of the dialogue in her government’s vision for the Korean Peninsula’s trust-building process.
The South Korean government understands that trust-building is impossible without dialogue.
Misunderstanding between the top leaders must be resolved even more in time of crisis than in time of stability. That will only stop any miscalculations and extreme acts. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, exchanged more than 300 secret messages. Only four people from the two sides were involved in the talks and trust was built.
Because the two Koreas both have new, relatively unknown leaders, deepening understanding is critical. Instead of communicating through exaggerated, provocative words with the media, they can only build trust when they talk face-to-face.
The key role of an envoy or a messenger is not negotiation. It is to explain the philosophy and vision of the trust-building process of the Park government and to deliver Park’s willingness to engage in dialogue.
Furthermore, the envoy should deliver the president’s promise that her government will respect the agreements created during the past administrations while respecting reality.
As the crisis worsens, the international community urges the two Koreas to resolve the situation through dialogue. Furthermore, they urged South Korea to take the initiative to manage Korean Peninsula affairs.
In the past, we had to worry that Washington could bypass Seoul and talk to Pyongyang directly.
While the East Asia strategies of the United States and China collide, we worried that the opportunity for the two Koreas to talk about the Korean Peninsula’s future would disappear. Because of the North’s threats, we are now seeing policy coordination between Washington and Beijing.
The international community supports inter-Korean talks now, and we must remember that this is a rare opportunity. The South Korean government must have a different approach from its past attitude of only responding once the North acts first.
We must stop our approach of analyzing Pyongyang’s intentions and putting less priority on making initiatives.
It is our job to find a resolution whenever a crisis rises. We must begin inter-Korean talks - whichever form they will take - so that our neighbor won’t dominate the conversation. We can manage the Korean Peninsula affairs with self-importance when we talk with the North.
Restoring the talks channel will be the first step to building trust. Without dialogue, we can never break the pattern of inter-Korean relations in which the North creates a crisis and the South gives it something to stop it.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a lawmaker of the Saenuri Party.
By Kil Jeong-woo