A turning point for peace
North Korea’s fourth nuclear test at the beginning of the year has once again confirmed that the crisis that Korea is faced with now originates more from power dynamics rather than inter-Korea relations. Due to geopolitical limitations of the Korean Peninsula, Korea has had to practice toadyism.
Now that the world has become one community, we at the same time confirmed that self-reliance and peace are the basic norms of defending people’s wellbeing and national sovereignty.
Since the Cold War era, when the United States and the Soviet Union divided the world into the West and the East, the biggest change in the power structure of the international politics was China’s remarkable emergence to the rank of superpower in a single generation. While Korea embraced the shift without much trouble, the United States doesn’t seem to have completely embraced China as an equal partner even while not denying its rise as a superpower.
Japan, the third largest economy in the world, is also hesitant to acknowledge China as one of the G-2 that determines the direction of the Asia-Pacific region. We need to pay attention to the fact that this change stems from Korea’s independent judgment in the trilateral alliance with the United States and Japan.
Unlike South Korea’s accommodative choice, dark clouds threatening the peace in the Korean Peninsula and East Asia could be found in North Korea’s exceptional attitude of not recognizing China as a superpower like the United States. No power - especially a superpower - would swallow the rudeness of a neighboring country conducting a nuclear test without any previous notice within 200 kilometers of its border.
When all East Asian countries, including Korea and Japan, and the international community, including the United States, recognize China as the only nuclear state in East Asia, North Korea does not agree and declares itself to be the second nuclear state. Pyongyang may want to open the G-3 era in the Asia-
Pacific region by setting an equation that a nuclear power is a superpower.
American specialists’ comments following the fourth nuclear test imply a lot. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea seven times and saw the glass container of 200 grams of plutonium during a tour of Yongbyon nuclear facility at the invitation of Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan, expressed a skeptical view that Washington’s passive North Korean policy allowed Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development to reach a considerable level in both quality and quantity and that no sanctions would be much effective now.
Joel Wit, who has worked for 25 years to prevent the North’s nuclear development, said that North Korea has succeeded in becoming a nuclear state, while its size is still small, and diagnosed that it was a result of Washington’s misdirected view on the North, underestimating Pyongyang’s determination and technology. Also, he recommended a long-term strategy with a premise that the North Korean regime is capable of making a logical decision.
As if reflecting the limits of Washington’s North Korean nuclear policy, President Obama seems to pass over North Korea completely, not mentioning it in the State of the Union address. Professor Victor Cha thinks that it reflected grief - not anger - over failed communication with the North and predicted that the North Korean nuclear issue had to be transferred to the next administration.
Perhaps Washington’s dismissive attitudes about the North’s nuclear progress may be a result of its regrets on a failure to create a productive diplomatic relationship with China in addition to its discontent over the lack of meaningful conversation with North Korea. President Obama and Xi Jinping have had two summit meetings, but Washington failed to understand and modify the strategic blueprint on how to create a peaceful and productive partnership in the Asia-Pacific region. It is very likely that China’s inability to convincingly state its clear stance as a superpower on the North played a part in the diplomatic logjam.
It is necessary for both Washington and Beijing to acknowledge that North Korea can make its own judgment on the possibility of international sanctions leading to North Korea’s fall and cope with it - rather than allowing China to worry about it. It is the shared wish of Asian people who hope for the resurrection of the greater peace diplomacy that has disappeared since the Kissinger-Zhou Enlai negotiations and the establishment of a peace system in Asia Pacific.
During the Cold War, South and North Korea in 1972 issued the July 4 Joint Statement to pursue one ethnic community and promised a new era based on the principles of self-reliance, peace and unity of the people, which embodied the teachings of visionaries who linked self-reliant independence to peace in Asia. Rather than maintaining the passive stance of staying with the alliance or confrontation, South and North Korea must resolutely correct the mistakes of fearing peace and escalating tension.
The United States and China, Korea-China-Japan, and South and North Korea all must open the great door to peace again. Let’s pray that the nuclear test will be a turning point for peace.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, Page 31
*The author, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo