It’s our destiny
The world map is humbling. The United States is 44 times the size of the Korean Peninsula; China 43; Russia is 77 times, Japan 1.7. If we only look at South Korea alone, the United States is 98 times bigger. You can do the math for the other countries. Surrounded by such giants, a small country is made smaller by being divided into two. And those two sides are pointing guns at each other.
In 2014, South Korea was the biggest importer of weapons, purchasing $7.8 billion worth of arms. Among them, $7 billion of weapons were imported from the United States. North Korea is not satisfied with atomic bombs. It claims that it can make a hydrogen bomb up to 100 times more powerful than that. In goes without saying that South and North Koreas are investing too much in tormenting each other.
From the perspective of civilized history, Korea is only hurting itself. Since Gojoseon (ancient Joseon, or Choson) was established over four millennia ago, the Korean people have been invaded 931 times. After the humiliation of the colonial period, Korea was divided into two by world powers. The chronic stress of hatred and hostility translates into a poison of exclusivism and egocentrism, refusing to exist together but forever being bitter for not existing together. It is an unfortunate and cruel fate.
The four nuclear tests by North Korea can only be settled by the United States and China. The two superpowers blame each other. China, which holds the key to sanctions on North Korea, has no intention of closing the Dandong pipeline. While Beijing is anything but pleased with North Korea’s nuclear tests, it won’t do anything to endanger its buffer against the triangular alliance of South Korea, Japan and the United States. China has no reason to care about the anxiety and fury of the Korean people - or the misery of those Koreans stuck in the northern part of the peninsula.
The United States holds considerable responsibility for the deepening of the crisis. While President Barack Obama neglected the North’s nuclear program under the blithe policy called “strategic patience,” Pyongyang conducted three nuclear tests in the last seven years. Johns Hopkins University’s senior fellow Joel Wit concludes that North Korea will be able to produce some 100 nuclear weapons by 2020. Nothing is going to change by sending B-52 bombers to fly over the demilitarized zone.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said he would have decisive and direct dialogues with the enemies. In fact, the United States sealed a nuclear deal with Iran and restored ties with Cuba. North Korea fell off the agenda. Of course, Washington was disappointed when Pyongyang launched a long-range missile shortly after the U.S.-North Korea agreement on February 29, 2012 to suspend all nuclear program activities in return for 240,000 tons of food aid.
China suspects that the United States intentionally neglects North Korea, as a North Korea with nuclear weapons could be a justification for pressuring China through its alliance with Korea and Japan. Also, the United States can deploy its controversial missile shield in Korea in response to the nuclear program. A year ago, North Korea proposed that it would temporarily suspend nuclear tests if Korea and the United States temporarily suspended the joint military exercise, but Washington rejected it. The New York Times criticized Obama’s decision in an editorial, advising that Washington needed to begin exploratory talks with Pyongyang. In a New Year’s address, Kim Jong-un once again criticized America’s “hostile policy against North Korea” and demanded a peace treaty. Washington did not respond.
The Shinzo Abe government in Tokyo seems to be pleased with the fallout from Punggye-ri, North Korea, the nuclear test site. After securing its right to so-called collective self-defense - thanks to U.S. support - and settling a comfort women deal with South Korea, Japan has an opportunity to fully rearm itself. Kim Jong-un is also enjoying the development of the North Korean nuclear issue as the U.S. presidential election approaches. Koreans are living with atomic weapons on our soil. When our ally, the United States, and our strategic cooperative partner, China, both feign ignorance, Korea’s loudspeaker propaganda can hardly convince the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.
In order to not allow Washington and Beijing to downplay North Korea’s threats, South Korea needs to show considerable determination. Seoul must initiate international cooperation for strong sanctions. Yet, the sanctions must not lead to catastrophic consequences. Instead, they must lead to talks and negotiations. In the end, we should prepare the groundwork for direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington. Inter-Korean relations need to improve first, and Seoul must persuade Pyongyang that such a development is in its interest. Only then can Uncle Sam make a move. North Korea must change, too. Kim Jong-un said in a very early speech in April 2011 that he would not force his people to tighten their belts any more. Pyongyang must abandon the unrealistic goals of parallel pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic development to concentrate on the latter.
If we get exhausted and give up, our neighbors will turn a blind eye to the ordeal of the Korean Peninsula. There is only one way to get out of this geopolitical dead end. We must awake from our dream of powerful nations solving our problems and become champions of our own destiny. JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 13, Page 31
The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Ha-kyung