Between talks and sanctions
The Korean Peninsula, which already experienced the unprecedented disaster of the 1950-53 Korean War, is once again turning into an arena of competition among superpowers. As advanced weapons are being developed and deployed to the peninsula, the security crisis is reaching its peak.
For a long time, peninsula affairs were a global matter, out of the hands of the Korean people. While we let others decide our fate, we were only able to make small choices. This is why we must revisit the origin of the troubles and find a resolution to end this crisis.
The military order of the Korean Peninsula, defined by the Korean War armistice and North Korea’s nuclear ambition, was prompted by the North. The North’s nuclear ambition is the product of the armistice. Therefore, establishing a peace regime to replace the armistice is the starting point and ending point of the nuclear crisis. Without complete dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program, bringing peaceful change to end the North’s generational power-succession and achieving unification are impossible.
South Korea has already normalized its relations with China and Russia, and North Korea’s normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan is one path that can be taken to end the North’s nuclear ambition. Let’s walk this path again. Under the leadership of former President Roh Tae-woo and former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo, the strategy of “de facto two countries” accomplished South Korea’s establishment of diplomatic ties with China and Russia, as well as the inter-Korean basic agreement, the Korean Peninsula denuclearization agreement and the two Koreas joining the United Nations at the same time. Let’s complete the remaining half of this strategic wisdom.
If North Korea’s relations with the United States and Japan improve to the levels of South Korea-China and South Korea-Russia relations, denuclearization and a peace treaty are possible. Denuclearization, improving U.S.-North Korea relations and a peace regime on the peninsula should move together. It must not be forgotten that South Korea also have the U.S.-South Korea alliance, diplomatic and trade relations with China, the U.S. Forces Korea, the U.S. nuclear umbrella and the international community’s support.
In this time, a combination of dialogue and sanctions is the shortcut to denuclearization. It is not one or the other. During the early stage of the North Korean nuclear crisis, dialogue took place between Washington and Pyongyang and between the two Koreas. The nuclear freeze and delay of the North’s bolstering of nuclear capabilities were significant gains.
North Korea’s nuclear tests and improvement of its atomic weapons ability took place when dialogue halted and sanctions failed. That is why we must start with a nuclear freeze as the first step to resolving the nuclear crisis. Unfortunately, sanctions and dialogue have become increasingly difficult. South Korea’s role, therefore, is crucial.
But after the UN sanctions and the South’s May 24 sanctions, the North Korean economy and trade rather grew, and the Communist regime slowly embraced the market economy. The North also severed ties with the South, while its dependence on China grew heavier than ever. These were the outcomes of the China factor.
In contrast, resuming talks with the North became difficult because of the U.S. policy of “strategic patience.” It resulted in U.S. negligence toward the North bolstering its capabilities. If the South’s decision to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex becomes linked to China’s decision to stay away from sanctions and the U.S. decision to not talk to the North, it will fail to serve its purpose. Economic isolation of the North, bringing change to its regime, resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis and establishing peace on the peninsula will become even more difficult.
Recently, the key to dialogue has been China, and the key to sanctions has been the United States. Their two roles must work harmoniously with the South at the center. China must bolster its sanctions on the North, while the United States must put more effort into talking to the North. Only then will the North’s choices be limited.
The South must put as much effort into persuading the United States to start bilateral talks as to persuading China to impose sanctions. China and the United States are trying to use the nuclear crisis for their own national interests, and the possibility of them changing their stances is low.
In modern history, we lost our place amid confrontations between Qing Dynasty China and Japan, and between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Sino-Japanese War, colonization, separation and Korean War took place one after another. We must never repeat the same mistake during the latest U.S.-China confrontation over the North Korean nuclear issue.
Ever since we tied a diplomatic knot with China, we have consistently maintained both South Korea-U.S. alliance and South Korea-China cooperation. Ending this balance by accepting the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system and going back to the old days of choosing between the United States and China are unacceptable. For the sake of our security and economy, the alliance with the United States and cooperation with China must be strengthened.
If the United States and China will not move to talk or punish the North because of the South’s failure to perform its role, the North Korean nuclear issue will leave the hands of the South. President Park Geun-hye must seriously revisit the national strategy that had successfully strengthened the alliance with the United States, formed diplomatic relations with China and Russia, improved inter-Korean relations, and led to both Koreas’ joining the United Nations at the same time.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 19, Page 31.
*The author is a political science professor at Yonsei University.
by Park Myung-lim