Still stuck in mud fights before the storm

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Still stuck in mud fights before the storm

Lee Ha-kyung

The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The peacetime of nearly eight decades the global community has enjoyed since World War II may be coming to an end. In his 2011 book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” Harvard University psychology professor and author Steven Pinker concluded that violence has been in decline throughout human history. But lately, the world is dangerously resembling the volatile times of 1919 to 1939 between the two world wars.

After World War I, governments around the world began to roll back liquidity they unleashed during wartime. Companies went under in chain, and jobless people filled the streets. The international financial order crashed, causing the Great Depression in 1929. Countries fought to find a means for survival. German people under defeatism — and being hard-up under war reparation obligation — raved over the monstrous Fascist, Adolf Hitler.

English economist John Maynard Keynes, who attended the peace conference at the Palace of Versailles where Germany signed a peace treaty with allies to end World War I, criticized the harsh terms for Germany and warned of grave consequences — a global economic and political disaster. His prophesy came true, and the Second World War erupted.

Since the Wall Street meltdown in 2008, the global community has lost strong leadership due to shaken authority of the U.S. The world today brims with trade protectionism and extreme nationalism. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres worried of chilling parallels with the 1930s amid the rise the nationalism.

The four global powers and North Korea are all hard counterparts for South Korea. The United States kept distance with its ally with skepticism over its value.

China and the Soviet Union blessed North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. China had been on the North’s side to war with the South.

Japan remains liable for causing the bisection of the Korean Peninsula and the subsequent Korean War after it was forced to end colonization. Upon sensing defeat toward the end of World War II, Japan pulled in the Soviets by envisioning to become a U.S. partner after the war by offering to help contain China and the Soviets. Japan even changed its defense posture in the Korean Peninsula for the plan. It did not move 1 million soldiers stationed in China to Manchuria, which ended up facilitating the Soviet invasion of the peninsula. The Japanese Army was ordered to retreat “two steps back when the Soviets advance one step.”

The Soviets were able to advance into the Korean Peninsula Aug. 9, 1945 without having to use any firearms. The U.S. hurriedly had to offer the idea of dividing the peninsula into South and North Korea to prevent the Soviets from taking full control over the peninsula. Fumimaro Konoe, who served as a prime minister, observed that the Soviet engagement was the god’s gift to Japan.

Japan’s post-war strategy has been echoed in the book “America’s Strategy in World Politics” by Nicholas Spkyman, a professor of international relations at Yale University. In the 1942 book, he argued for the need for a U.S.-Japan alliance despite Japan’s invasion of the Pearl Harbor. Global powers have been playing with South Korea on cool-headed calculation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the relationship with South Korea would be doomed if South Korea supplies weapons to Ukraine. If Chinese President Xi Jinping orders an invasion of Taiwan, a full-scale war between China and the U.S. would be inevitable. If American soldiers in South Korea are mobilized to Taiwan, South Korea could become vulnerable to Chinese attacks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is threatening a pre-emptive nuclear strike. There is no hot line between leaders of the two Koreas to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. Mike Mulllen, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the situation today has become more alarming than 2017, when the U.S. and North Korea were teetering on the edge of a war.

Despite ever-escalating geopolitical risks, internal divide in South Korea is deepening. The incumbent and former governments are clashing over the liability over North Korea’s gunning down of a South Korean fisheries official at sea. The defense minister of the Moon Jae-in administration was arrested for accusing the civil servant of attempting to defect to North Korea. In reaction, senior officials in the Moon administration counterattacks the sitting government for framing for their interests.

Economic crisis can lead to security crisis. The debt market has been destabilized after Gangwon Governor Kim Jin-tae refused to uphold the provincial government’s payment obligation to the Legoland Korea project spearheaded under his predecessor. To fight an emergency, cooperation from the Democratic Party (DP) is essential. Opposition lawmakers should be included in emergency economic meetings being chaired by President Yoon Suk-yeol. The economy or security cannot be defended with the country divided. President Yoon must seek help from the DP, a supermajority party in the National Assembly. The party even boycotted the president’s regular address to the legislature to plea for its help with next year’s budget. Yoon, a former prosecutor general, could think it is inappropriate to meet with Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the DP head, as he is under prosecutorial probe.

Yoon once referred to British prime minister Winston Churchill’s organization of coalition government with the opposition during wartime. If the president cannot meet the DP head, such cooperation cannot be possible.
President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers a speech to the nation about the Halloween disaster in Itaewon at the presidential office in Yongsan, October 30. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE] 

Lee claims innocence to all allegations around him. He should promise to respond to prosecutorial questioning. Yoon should meet Lee as his political counterpart, not as a suspect. The Itaewon tragedy has added urgency and gloom to the country. The two must push aside their differences to cooperate on national priorities. The country cannot hold on to the so-called Lee Jae-myung risk.
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