Banish the ghost hanging over us

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Banish the ghost hanging over us

The specter of another cold war hovers over the Korean Peninsula. As the inter-Korean talks foundered over the level of the chief representative from each country, we can only explain the reality of a Korean Peninsula ruled by nonsense and distortion, not common sense and facts, with the anachronistic specter of the cold war.

It’s unreasonable obstinacy to insist that only Kim Yang-kon is a ministerial-level official and that all others cannot be recognized as ministerial-level representatives. The chairman post of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland is vacant, and aside from six octogenarian seniors with honorary vice chairmanship, the director general is the de facto head of the committee.

However, Seoul insisted that he was not a ministerial-level official. The fact that the first deputy director of the committee had been attending the ministerial-level meetings was intentionally ignored, and the double standard is defended.

The return of the cold war is far more cruel and devastating than the cold war era as reason and common sense are derided.

It’s nonsense to designate and demand a certain figure as the chief delegate of the other party in a meeting. Can Seoul demand a specific person as the chief delegate for a free trade agreement negotiation meeting with the United States? Specifically designating Kim Yang-kon, director of the United Front Department (UFD) of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, for the dialogue and claiming that only he can be a minister-level partner is a move down out of arrogance and sense of supremacy that we can determine the hierarchy of positions in North Korea.

When the basis of talks should be respect for the other side, denying the position and level defined by Pyongyang is nothing but unilateralism that makes talks impossible.

The essence of the ruptured inter-Korean talks is the recurrence of the cold war phenomenon of denying the other party. The specter of another cold war seems to have returned. This reincarnation is especially malicious and stubborn as it has appeared after going through the cold war and post-cold war periods. It is particularly serious as it has taken root upon antagonism and distrust after trying reconciliation and cooperation after the end of the cold war.

As it is a conclusion made after turbulent times, it is self-assured and stubborn. An opinion poll shows that most citizens support the collapse of inter-Korean talks, illustrating how nasty the second cold war can be.

The return of the cold war affects the North as well. Pyongyang called Seoul a “puppet” and withdrew the delegation before even beginning the talks. It turned away without any lingering feelings and wants to make a deal with the United States, excluding the South. Both South and North Korea have fallen into the trap of the revival of the cold war.

As Korea grows exhausted from the sluggish development in inter-Korean relations and nuclear matter, fatigue is responsible for the return of the cold war. Tiredness led to frustration, and then evolved into distrust and antagonism. Despite two summit meetings, inter-Korean relations have been repeating “stop and go.” Since the Lee Myung-bak administration, antagonism and confrontation aggravated, and an irreconcilable emotional dispute is underway.

We have come to have groundless distrust that we cannot do anything with the North. We have failed to reach an agreement over the nuclear issue, and the cycle of provocation and dialogue worsened the situation. In the end, Pyongyang made nuclear armament official. The fatigue that it is nearly impossible to resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue has spread. As distrust and fatigue from the inter-Korean relations and nuclear issue accumulated, cold war-style pressure and sanctions to make Pyongyang give in became a dominant position over post-cold war reconciliation and cooperation.

However, the revival of the cold war is anachronistic. Just as Koreans feel tired, Pyongyang is also growing exhausted and distrustful of the South. Mutual denial and hostility will only accompany elevated tension, routine crises and chronic war threats. Moreover, pressuring Pyongyang is only an emotional response and cannot make Pyongyang either give in or change. The stubbornness puts the cart before the horse by focusing on taming Pyongyang instead of addressing the desperate needs of the businesses housed in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the despair of the separated families.

It may be slow and difficult, but the Korean Peninsula must not give up the post-cold war approach of mutual acknowledgement and reconciliatory cooperation. The return of the cold war is only a phantom hovering over the Korean Peninsula, and we must banish the ghost.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University.

by Kim Keun-sik

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