Remember Korea’s July 4As the strategic value of the Korean Peninsula continues to rise, Korea is getting increasingly popular. It’s almost hard to keep a straight face as Washington and Beijing compete with each other to win Korea over. Japan is keeping a distance from Seoul due to history issues, but it’s chumming up to Pyongyang. There is speculation that Japan would offer tens of billions of dollars to North Korea as a compensation for its colonial occupation if diplomatic ties are established. U.S. President Barack Obama has visited Korea four times, more than any European country. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently came to Korea and upgraded the relationship to a “mature strategic cooperative partnership.” However, neither superpower has proposed a substantial solution for the North Korean nuclear issue, on which all of Korea’s survival depends. That is the true bottom line of Korea-U.S. and Korea-China relations.
It is universal knowledge that China provides food and oil on which North Korea survives. And the United States insists that China holds the key to the North Korean nuclear issue. But China prioritizes stability in North Korea so it can be a buffer between it and the United States forces in the South.
Beijing openly argues that it will not “intervene in domestic affairs” of North Korea. And the United States? It needs a rogue state that makes nuclear threats so that it can put a check on China by supporting Japan’s right of collective self-defense and establishing a triangular alliance with Korea and Japan. China cynically criticizes that as the truth behind Washington’s so-called “strategic patience.”
We need to get out of this labyrinth on our own. The best way is to improve relations with North Korea. As the South is ahead of the North materially, we need to approach it with a sense of tolerance. It could be costly but Seoul could lower its dependence on the superpowers and would gain an enhanced diplomatic edge. It would bring great benefits when tensions are relieved and Korea would gain a greater presence on the international stage. We could create specific conditions to improve relations. The Park Geun-hye administration has launched a reunification preparation committee. The atmosphere is ripe for dialogue. We need a critical move to change the situation.
Park needs to study her father’s determination to make landmark changes in inter-Korean relations. In 1972, President Park Chung Hee and North Korean leader Kim Il Sung made the July 4 Joint Statement. Three principles - self-reliance that does not depend on foreign powers, peaceful means without using force, and a great integration of the nation as one people - were proposed. It was a dramatic transition from the truce between South and North Koreas after a war that resulted in millions of casualties after Korea got caught among the United States, the Soviet Union and China. Four years earlier, 31 armed infiltrators were sent by Pyongyang to assassinate President Park and got close to the Blue House. South and North Korea were in state of quasi-war.
Of course, there were setbacks too. In the same year, Park Chung Hee declared the October Restoration to reinforce his dictatorship, and Kim Il Sung revised the constitution to introduce a centralized leadership system. But that does not deny the historic value of the July 4 Statement. Thanks to the principles set forth in the statement, President Roh Tae-woo prepared a reunification plan for the community of Korean people, signed a basic agreement with Pyongyang and made diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union and China. Also, Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun went on to have summit meetings with Kim Jong-il. The matrix of the June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration was the July 4 Statement.
Following the Lee Myung-bak administration, the inter-Korean relationship regressed seriously in the Park Geun-hye Administration. That is cause for criticism, since Korea has enhanced economic and military capacity now. Unless Seoul lays the groundwork for a breakthrough of its own, we cannot expect Washington and Beijing to solve the issue. Xi Jinping has already requested Seoul to improve relations with Pyongyang. We have no means to check Japan’s swing to the right and the resulting talks with Pyongyang, which do not include Seoul.
Pyongyang’s latest proposal for talks contains clear echoes of the July 4 Statement and past summit meetings. The special proposal by the North Korean Defense Commission on June 30 stated, “Let’s open a new phase in inter-Korean relations with the three principles of the July 4 Statement, self-reliance, peace and integration.” The government statement on July 7 mentions the “historic document” that Kim Il Sung had signed the day before his death on July 7, 1994 before a scheduled summit meeting with President Kim Young-sam that never took place. Pyongyang’s moves are significant as Seoul launches the committee on reunification preparation.
The messages of the July 4 Statement are still valid after 42 years. We must not rely on others and aspire to be the keeper of our own destiny. Seoul has to improve the relationship with Pyongyang. Only then, we can be confident, and other countries won’t underestimate Korea. The inter-Korean relationship is not only a risk. It’s also an opportunity. We cannot let the superpowers decide our fate. If we did, we would fail both in resolving the nuclear crisis and reunification.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 16, Page 35
*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY Lee Ha-kyung