No more illusions about dialogueThere have been countless talks between nations in modern history, and the common objective is to improve the situation between civilized nations. However, inter-Korean talks are different due to the extreme polarization between the South and the North. The South has accomplished the Korean civilization of liberty and prosperity. In contrast, North Korea is the most peculiar uncivilized state in history. The ultimate goal of the inter-Korean dialogue is to save the 25 million North Koreans from their uncivilized situation. Therefore, the inter-Korean talks are not a festivity but a game of survival.
Until the reunification in 1990, West and East Germany had a number of talks. But Germany was different from the Korean Peninsula. East Germany has not invaded or attacked West Germany since their separation after World War II. East Germany did not develop nuclear weapons or leave its people starving. The income gap between West and East Germany was only a factor of three.
While the Berlin Wall separated the two, they still continued civilized exchanges. In return for money from West Germany, East Germany would hand over political prisoners from time to time. The process was called “Freikaufen,” meaning “the buying of freedom.” For 26 years, 33,000 political prisoners were held for ransom and released to West Germany.
In the mid-20th century, humanity was afflicted with fear of nuclear weapons. The United States and the Soviet Union competed to expand their nuclear capacity. In 1969, the two superpowers began to talk. The negotiation started with SALT, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, which evolved into START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush talked with Soviet and Russian leaders for more than 30 years, and thanks to their efforts, nuclear weapons have been reduced significantly. Moreover, humanity has made meaningful progress on the nuclear issue through a historical civilized negotiation.
The leaders of West Germany and the United States had great confidence when dealing with East Germany and the Soviet Union. The origin of the confidence was the liberal democratic system and economic strength. Yeom Don-jay was a diplomatic minister to West Germany at the time of reunification.
In his book, “The Course and Lessons of German Reunification,” he wrote that West Germany’s Ostpolitik was possible because it was powerful, and the engine of reunification was the power. President Reagan advocated “a strong America” and the evil empire of the Soviet Union eventually dissolved. The Soviet Union could not keep up with the United States’ overwhelming power.
President Park Geun-hye is to begin the inter-Korean talks for the first time since she entered the Blue House in February. She has been strict on the North until now. She has warned that provocations would have to pay the price. She stood by the principle for the Kaesong Industrial Complex - the last vestige of economic cooperation between South and North Korea.
Now Pyongyang has stretched out its hand to Seoul. However, it is just the beginning. President Park needs to lead the talks like the West German and American leaders. She needs to tame North Korea with the superiority of freedom and liberty. Most of all, she should be wary of the “illusion of the inter-Korean talks.”
As dialogue is to resume after six years, the illusion is returning, too. Some liberals tend to believe that the inter-Korean issues will be resolved once the talk is underway - regardless of the contents of the discussion. The symptom was especially serious during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. Delusional people said that the war threat was gone once the inter-Korean summit was held. As the six-party talks began, they thought that nuclear threat from the North was eliminated once and for all.
Some people are still tempted to attach extraordinary significance to the South-North joint venture in Kaesong and Mount Kumgang tourism. They consider the industrial park and tourism as symbols of inter-Korean exchange that will change the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. But that’s also a kind of delusion. Mount Kumgang is only “tube tourism,” a visit under strict control of North Korean guides.
The Kaesong complex is also an isolated island within the North. It would have been meaningful if Pyongyang learned the system of liberal economy from the industrial park, but that’s not the reality.
Just as time has proven, the effect of the joint venture on North Korean society has been extremely limited as the complex and the tourism have had little effect in opening the closed North Korean society. Instead, as much as $80 million go into the pockets of the North Korean leadership on an annual basis. To put it simply, the change is illusionary, while the dollars are real.
Park needs to dispel the delusion from the inter-Korean talks. She may be able to discuss the complex and the tourism in talks, but she has to use them as leverage to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Without a resolution in the nuclear issue, her trust-building process on the peninsula is highly likely to fall into the trap of delusion, too. North Korea declared its nuclear program in 1993. But South Korea has suffered from the delusion for 20 years. Will Park become a doctor or a patient on the thorny nuclear issue?
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin