Trust goes with deterrenceIt could be a coincidence that this year’s Liberation Day fell the day after the two Koreas’ long-awaited agreement to normalize the operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. But it is fortunate for us. President Park Geun-hye was able to include a crucial comment about a new era of improved inter-Korean relations in her Liberation Day speech, which was surely taken note of by the movers and shakers in Pyongyang.
On the surface, she proposed building a peace park inside the Demilitarized Zone and to hold reunions of families separated for decades by that DMZ before the Chuseok holiday, which falls Sept. 18-20. She also expressed an intention to push forward her so-called trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula more actively. The proposals are feasible and also groundbreaking steps toward peaceful coexistence and mutual prosperity of the two Koreas.
But those who listened carefully to Park’s televised address were particularly impressed by her remarks stressing the importance of trust.
“Safeguarding peace requires deterrence,” she said. “But building peace calls for an accumulation of mutual trust.”
That means our North Korea policy demands a balance between deterrent power and trust. But if we interpret it more aggressively, it means that she will change her North Korea policy and strategy from a mode of security to a mode of dialogue. That reflects the awareness that we are now transitioning into an era of peace-making from an era of peace-keeping.
Since its launch, the Park administration focused its North Korea policy on deterring provocations from the North. It was an unavoidable choice for the new administration, which inherited the North’s tendency toward brinkmanship under the Lee Myung-bak administration.
As a result, the chief of the National Security Council and the director of the National Intelligence Service - both former generals - had abnormally strong influence, while the voices of the Ministry of Unification, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other diplomatic aides were diminished.
For South Korea, which is exposed to the North’s endless provocations and threats, a strong military deterrent power is a must. It is the starting point for our national security. But it is simply a necessary condition for our national security, not a be-all-and-end-all condition. We need diplomacy with other countries and dialogue for inter-Korean relations in order to satisfy a necessary and sufficient condition for peace and security. It is particularly inspiring that Park’s statement - that trust, as much as deterrence, is important in inter-Korean relations - is based on such an insight.
Dialogue is the alpha and omega of trust. The process of trust can only be pushed forward effectively with a balance between those supporting national security and others supporting dialogue. The recent agreement to normalize operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex marks an important first step for the two Koreas’ relationship to find its right place. Actually, both Koreas had no intention of giving up the last symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation. And yet, the Kaesong situation got almost out of control because of the lack of trust in each other. Park’s trust-building process is about correcting that state of affairs.
The North’s situation is at its best since Kim Jong-un’s succession to power in late 2011. With the launch of a long-range missile in late 2012 and a third nuclear test in February this year, Kim was able to gain his footing in power. He recently completed preparations to improve the North’s economy by attracting foreign investments with a blueprint for special economic development zones in Wonsan, Mount Chilbo, Mount Paektu, Sinuiju, Nampo and Haeju.
The North is reportedly in its final stage in investment negotiations with Singapore to develop Wonsan, where a scenic beach is located. To develop Mt. Chilbo and Mt. Paektu, North Korea plans to attract Chinese capital, while trying to attract investments from China and Europe to develop the economic belt on the west coast from Sinuiju to Nampo and Haeju.
Depending on the progress in inter-Korean relations, South Korean companies will be able to participate. This is Erasmus’s idea of attaining peace through economic cooperation.
The concealed reason for the North to save the Kaesong complex was a fear of losing foreign investors in its special economic zones. For Kim to maintain his power, he had to sell to his military leaders and people the two-track policy of openly keeping nuclear weapons while saving the North’s economy.
If the North is further isolated and foreign investors turn away, Kim will end up with nuclear arms and missiles and a barely functioning economy.
Some complained that the South made too big of a concession by agreeing that the South, as well as the North, will guarantee the normal operation of the Kaesong complex. When trapped into such a formal concession, however, it doesn’t make sense to concentrate on that alone. In this latest agreement, we made a small concession as a formality while winning a big substantial gain.
The stalled Mt. Kumgang tourism programs can find a similar breakthrough with an agreement that the two Koreas will have different interpretations. It was an idea that the Lee Myung-bak administration already tried and almost achieved.
President Park managed to keep to her principles and she also benefitted from the timing as the North was changing its confrontational posture to a reconciliatory one by shifting its strategies toward the South and the United States.
A flexible attitude in negotiations is needed for the peace park plan in the DMZ, Mt. Kumgang tour projects, family reunions, participation in the North’s new special economic zones and building an inter-Korean economic cooperation community.
* The author is a senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie