The kimchi community
*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The carrot and stick approach is an issue of combination, and the dilemma of the North Korea issue is creating the best combination. Next Tuesday’s summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Singapore’s Sentosa Island represents the game of deciding the combination. In return for making the North surrender its “treasured sword of justice” using the stick of “fire and fury,” a carrot of regime security and economic aid will be traded. The ticket price we have to pay for watching the spectacle of Trump’s brinkmanship and Kim’s diplomacy and entertainment is a bill that will summarize the quality and quantity of carrots that we have to offer.
President Moon Jae-in already prepared a great plate of carrots. During the April 27 inter-Korean summit, he offered a USB stick to Kim that contained the road map for a new economic foundation of the Korean Peninsula. It is the blueprint for connecting the transportation and energy networks of the two Koreas and building an industrial and economic belt with three axes linking Mokpo and Sinuiju on the West Coast, Busan and Cheongjin on the East Coast and Incheon, Gangneung and Hamheung on the inter-Korean border. Hundreds of trillions of won will be invested for the project.
Providing enormous funds is an issue, and the economic cooperation projects have no guarantees. They are risky businesses in which money and infrastructure could be lost at any moment. The South may lose all its bets in the game between the U.S. and North. The Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tour project carry a history of betrayal. Instead of making all bets in the uncertain, giant project, Moon must seriously think about offering carrots that are binding, sustainable and beneficial to unification in the future.
The community model of Europe in the 1950s is a good example. World War I and World War II were nightmares for the European people. They desperately wanted to avoid repeating a history of cruelty and over 50 million deaths in war. Under the common goals of preventing war, building peace and restoring the economy, France and Germany, the war criminal, cooperated. In April 1951, France, West Germany, Italy and other countries signed a deal to create the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). By jointly managing coal and steel, the key items for a war, they wanted to stop a war and defend peace. As the ECSC operated smoothly, members of the community established the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) and European Economic Community (ECC) in 1957. Development and distribution of nuclear and atomic energy were handled by Euratom, while free trade prospered within the EEC. The European Commission (EC), promoting the peace of ECSC and Euratom and prosperity of EEC, started a long journey for one Europe.
Our situation is similar to Europe 67 years ago. The South is under the fear of a war, while the North is suffering from poverty. A smart idea that will bring peace and prosperity to the two Koreas at the same time is desperately in need. A European community model that respects the differences of one another and seeks mutual prosperity, not an investment without any guarantee, is the key. That was also Moon’s presidential pledge in 2012, that he would build an economic coalition between the two Koreas. “Kimchi community” is seen as a possible resolution. Because it is a nonpolitical project, it has a high feasibility. Kimchi is a symbol of the culinary culture of the two Koreas. The South imports 100 billion won ($92.8 million) worth of kimchi from China annually, on average. Last year, $120 million worth of kimchi, 250,00 tons, was imported from China.
The South should build kimchi factories in the North and import from them in return for transferring advanced agricultural technologies such as farming and fertilizer techniques. A community can be built for free exchanges of the people and goods with kimchi as an intermediary. A successful model will affect other industries. We can also try a community of coal, steel and nuclear energy, which can all be diverted away from arms production. The South’s technology and capital and the North’s labor and resources will be shared while war is prevented.
A mechanism that will stop the history of making an agreement and then scrapping it repeatedly will be necessary. An agreement is no different from a piece of scrap paper unless it is implemented. Until the European Union was created, Europe was bound by treaties. How can we be sure that any agreement will be kept after the terms of Moon and Trump end? Moon must persuade Kim to create the first economic treaty between two countries to build a kimchi community.
The current administration is putting its efforts into creating a unified team for the Asian Games and a joint celebration for the June 15, 2000 summit anniversary. It’s been 70 years since the national division. This divide and the effects of the Cold War will not be destroyed at once by holding hands and singing together in an event. A rapid, unwanted unification would be a tragedy. The experiment of an inter-Korean community to ease political hostility and economic dispartiy while finding a common ground, therefore, is worth trying. The history of Europe proves that this is the best carrot for peace and prosperity. We must make haste slowly. Festina lente.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 8, Page 31