Korea stands at a crossroads

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Korea stands at a crossroads

The security crisis on the Korean Peninsula has increased the sense of anxiety, anger and solemn resolution among the public.

This year marks 63 years since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

And yet, turbulence has marked the Korean Peninsula and East Asia since the beginning of the year, as if they are at a crossroads between war and peace. The safety and survival of the Korean people and the security of our democratic nation face a critical test right now.

When the Cold War came to an end, the global community promoted peace and coexistence, but North Korea was the extreme exception.

It has now crossed the Rubicon. Defying previous United Nations resolutions, Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and fired a long-range missile on Feb. 7. That was North Korea declaring that a decision must be made - and soon.

These actions essentially declared to the international community that for the regime to survive, it has no choice but to become a “strong and great” nuclear-armed country.

No matter how urgent it is for the North to maintain its regime, it must not put the survival and safety of the entire Korean people at risk.

Considering that more than 10 percent of the victims of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima were Koreans, the North agreed 25 years ago that the most assured way to guarantee the safety of the 70 million Korean people in the era of nuclear weaponry was the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

How can it so easily forget?

Pyongyang must give up its reasoning that the security of the regime is more important than the safety of the Korean people. A nuclear-armed North would raise dangerous international power dynamics to the next level and turn the peninsula into a nuclear war zone.

One example is in international political history: Radical or irresponsible actions by a neighboring country that fail to be addressed often escalate tensions.

In East Asia, China is the only recognized nuclear power, and North Korea is attempting to become the second, which has raised concerns that Pyongyang’s actions could trigger a second Cold War in the Asia-Pacific.

In other words, North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb, is no doubt a risky experiment that threatens peace on the peninsula and in the region.

The national agenda that serves as the basis of South Korean foreign policy is promoting and systemizing peace on the peninsula and in Asia. It was a long-held tradition from the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and throughout the independence movement.

Korea’s independence was the requisite for peace in Asia. Our ancestors, including independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun, was clear about this, and it was stipulated in our March 1 Declaration of Independence.

The conclusion followed a chain of wars prompted by China, Japan and Russia, which was perhaps a product of the peninsula’s geopolitical position being surrounded by superpowers.

In any case, Koreans came to recognize the prevention of war and the establishment of peace through mutual cooperation as a means of self-protection - for their national destiny as well as for the international community.

Since the end of the Cold War, Korean diplomacy has focused on improving friendly ties with all the world’s superpowers, including China and Russia. Korea has actively welcomed China’s rise as a political and economic superpower in the 21st century.

The Korean people expect that Seoul and Beijing will cooperate to come up with an exit strategy for the North Korean nuclear crisis based on the principle of peaceful coexistence. They also expect Seoul and Beijing will work together to prevent North Korea from engaging in actions that raise tensions between the United States and China, in particular.

North Korea’s ability to calculate its gains for the survival of the regime cannot be treated lightly. Washington and Beijing must understand their “arrogance as superpowers,” because it’s easy to underestimate Pyongyang’s pragmatic judgement.

The collapse of the regime is a choice to be made by North Korea itself - rather than the concerns or policies of the world’s superpowers. That applies to South Korea, too.

The superpowers - particularly China - must back their dedication to prompting peace and make an effort to effectively communicate with concerned parties to prevent any misunderstandings. Wouldn’t the United States want to know how much the North would lose for possessing nuclear weapons and what it would demand in return for denuclearization?

In his Feb. 19 column to the Dong-A Ilbo, Professor Zhu Feng of Nanjing University proposed that the South Korean government could only persuade China when it had the backing by the entire Korean people, including the opposition parties.

China, however, must understand the peculiar nature of our system - compromises must be made on any policy to win national consensus. It must also remember that the Korean people have already decided that they will make necessary sacrifices for the sake of defending their liberty.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 31

*The author, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo

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