When will spring return?

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When will spring return?


President Park Geun-hye’s determination is just like that of her father. Once she is determined, she will reach her goals no matter what, and she is always quick in making decisions. She put an end to the Sunshine Policy - the legacy of the late President Kim Dae-jung that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

She must have known that her trust-based foreign policy would crumble following the shutdown of the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and when she changed the government’s North Korea policy. But the provocations by North Korea and China’s lukewarm response toward them must have elevated her anger.

She is cutting off a revenue for Pyongyang to the detriment of its economy.

“The shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex is only the beginning,” she said in her nationally televised address last week.

That warning was heard loud and clear. South Koreans don’t know how long current tensions on the Korean Peninsula will last, and despite her pleas for support, we can feel the shadow of war approaching. This kind of strategy - cutting off financial resources and applying more pressure - is nothing new. But North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seems to be so infatuated with his missiles, it’s hard not to worry about the prospect of renewed conflict.

The South Korean people aren’t the only anxious ones. Kim may have expected a hawkish response, but it was likely a shock for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who may not have expected Park to react this strongly.

Xi found himself in an awkward position and disclosed the launch of a DF-31, an intercontinental ballistic missile, whose range covers the continental United States. It came a few days after Seoul announced that it was considering bringing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery to South Korea to serve as a primary defense against the North’s missile provocations.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s prolonged “strategic patience” policy failed to do any good.

Washington slapped a new set of more expansive sanctions on North Korea following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and subsequent long-range missile launch on Feb. 7.

Since the armistice agreement in 1953, the risk of a clash among the world’s superpowers has never escalated this much.

Those who came of age during the Korean War like to say: “Those who haven’t experienced war don’t know what war is like.”

But the generations after them indirectly experienced wars through the Vietnam War, and more recently through the wars in Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria. History shows that humans have annihilated all creatures that have threatened the survival of human kind. And civilization has only made our selfish aggression more hostile. Now, in the 21st century, not much has changed.

The North Korean tanks that invaded the South 66 years ago are now seen as mere toys. Yet, they were terrifying weapons of destruction at the time.

Journalist Andrew Salmon’s book “To the Last Round” brings his post-war generation readers into the Battle of Seolmari on the Imjin River against the Chinese Army, where, by moonlight, the enemies begin to come down on them.

All kinds of shrapnel flew over their heads until dawn, he writes. And these metal pieces, invented by humans, killed half the 29th Brigade of the British Forces.

Could you imagine the peninsula under siege now - with DF-31 missiles and nuclear aircraft carriers, stealth fighters and F-22 Raptors flying overhead?

With 60 percent of the world’s military strength concentrated on the peninsula, Northeast Asia sits on the frontlines of World War III.

Conventional wisdom says “armed peace” is better than nuclear war. If the North is obsessed with nuclear development, and if we are at a stage where we can acknowledge its possession of nuclear weapons, we may need to seriously consider Pyongyang’s call for exchanging the recognition of its nuclear status with a peace agreement.

As long as China supports North Korea, its collapse is simply unrealistic. China won’t tolerate American nuclear weapons deployed along the Aprok River or the West Sea.

In the end, wouldn’t the civilized compromise in the 21st century? Can an “armed peace” be maintained between China and North Korea and the nuclear umbrella of the United States on the other hand?

As winter slowly comes to an end, the severe northwest winds are likely to blow over the peninsula once more. We can endure the passing cold, but the seeds of reconciliation that brought a new spring in the Cold War have stopped budding due to the freeze.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 23, Page 35

*The author is a sociology professor at Seoul National University.

by Song Ho-keun
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