The similarities of the two leadersUnless something unusual happens, Chinese President Xi Jinping will lead China for the next 10 years. During that time, it is highly likely that a critical change will occur on the Korean Peninsula. In 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev observed the reunification process of Germany. Perhaps Xi will be the Chinese leader to witness the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. He may not see the completion, but at least the process may begin during his leadership.
While China is under a group leadership system, the influence of the president is immense. Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin were especially powerful. Just as Gorbachev played a certain role in Germany’s reunification, Xi may be able to affect the Korean Peninsula’s reunification. Therefore, how he views the future of the peninsula is an important issue.
If Xi believes that unification is approaching and a unified Korea would benefit China, it would bring a positive influence on the development of history. The summit meeting scheduled for June 27 will mark the beginning of the Park-Xi partnership.
The two leaders share similar life experiences. Both grew up in powerful families. Born in 1952, Park Geun-hye became the president’s daughter at age 9 and remained a member of the first family for 18 years. When Xi was born in 1953, his father Xi Zhongxun was a big shot in the Communist Party. He oversaw the Northwest Political and Military Affairs Bureau and became secretary general of the State Council under Zhou Enlai after moving to Beijing. While Xi was enjoying a privileged childhood in the 50s, tens of millions of people starved to death in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward. Xi was born with a silver spoon in his mouth when countless peers were starving.
However, his life was not luxurious. His father Xi Zhongxun always emphasized frugality and revolutionary spirit. Park grew up with privilege, but her lifestyle was far from luxurious. Her father was frugal, and her mother personally advocated thrifty living.
Both Park and Xi experienced a tragic fall. Upon the assassination of Park Chung Hee, Park Geun-hye left the Blue House and started a life without power. Her hermit life continued for 18 years. When Xi was 9, his father was accused of being anti-Communist Party and purged from all leadership positions. He was in supervised confinement for a long period. When Xi was 13, the family was swept by the madness of the Cultural Revolution, the aristocratic school he had enrolled in was disbanded and he went to a mountain village in Northwest China.
While Park and Xi saw their falls from grace, the intensity of their suffering differed considerably. Park was hurt because of the attacks on her father’s leadership and her personal betrayals. But she still had social status and economic comfort. However, Xi suffered tremendously. He lived in a cave just like any other resident in the remote village. The farm work was hard, and he had to deal with lice and fleas. He scratched his skin so much that he was often covered in blood.
Xi fled to Beijing after three months, and while life was easier there, he felt guilty. In the end, he returned to the remote village and made up his mind to rise from the ground up. Six years later, he became a key member of the local Communist Party. He was a completely changed man.
The leader who has faced difficulties is likely to have a pragmatic and comprehensive perspective. On the North Korean issue, Xi may highlight the fact that it is a failed state that let people starve over its nuclear capacity. Former unification minister and China expert Lee Sei-kee analyzes that Xi is more market friendly and more pragmatic than his predecessors, adding that the tendency would affect the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
China is changing in many ways. On the North Korean issue, the leaders are highly likely to contemplate fundamental and comprehensive prescriptions. If Xi - who knows the sufferings of starvation personally - leads the trend, it would exert a positive impact on reunification. Park and Xi share the experience and the time period. If they make a connection, they will be able to pull off a historic accomplishment. And they could save the 25 million North Koreans from their uncivilized nation.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin