December 21, 2009 13:32
Some people have started to call on the Lee Myung-bak administration to moderate its hardline policy toward North Korea. They feel the South should soften its position in tune with the moderating atmosphere whereby the United States has drawn Pyongyang into dialogue. The president himself also hinted at changes in his North Korea policy by referring to an inter-Korean summit.
But this is not the right time to talk about any shifts one way or the other. What is needed is careful observation of the changes in North Korea, particularly because Pyongyang faces a serious economic crisis and public support for the regime looks very shaky.
There are some key premises when talking about North Korea. First, North Korea should not be identified with the Kim Jong-il regime. The people, and their lives and rights, must be separated from the regime. Those who see the North as a single entity are calling for support, but that is tantamount to calling for support for the privileged and the regime.
Second, South Korea must ask itself if it will tacitly prop up permanent rule by the Kim regime, or if it wants to see a power change so that a Chinese-style economic reforms can take place to revive the economy and improve people's lives. In discussing the North, we should not confine ourselves to the regime but always consider the lives of the North Koreans, the North Korean economy and peaceful coexistence. We must not be bamboozled by catch-all terms like "North Korea," "six-party talks" and "denuclearization" used by the appeasers.
Why is that important now? A profound change is taking place in the North. The decade-long struggle between the people and the regime has suddenly intensified by the shock currency reform announced on Dec. 1, according to North Korean defectors. The people running grassroots market economy have seriously undermined the planned economy. The regime, certain that the situation could no longer go unchecked, carried out the currency reform in a bid to disrupt the markets. But the results were huge protests and attempted mass defections, with the security minister jetting off to China to discuss reinforcing the border to prevent the exodus.
The South's aid to the North has consistently supported the regime and hurt the people in this struggle. That is why North Korean defectors objected to the generous handouts propping up the regime. If the appeasers succeed and aid resumes, it would once again be helping Kim Jong-il out of a tight spot and set back the emerging market economy.
It's expected that the North will suffer a crisis next year more serious than its 1997-98 famine. If the grassroots market is disrupted while this happens, experts say, the North would suffer large-scale starvation in the lean season next year. In addition, North Koreans are not what they used to be a decade ago. They apparently watch South Korea dramas and are well aware what South Koreans' life is like. "The currency reform has perhaps touched the detonator of the grassroots economy," said a North Korean defector.
Some appeasers point to North Korea's imminent return to the six-party talks. But that only means turning back the clock to an endless meaningless round of agreements and backtracking that achieve no palpable results. The regime seems to realize that it is hitting a cul-de-sac. In working for a breakthrough with the U.S. at a time when U.S. President Barack Obama faces pressure to produce results in the North Korean issue, Kim also needs support from the south Korean president.
In the circumstances, North Korea's nuclear arms and the people's rights are in danger of being forgotten. It looks as though the North's return to the six-party talks, bilateral talks with the U.S., a peace treaty and moderation are becoming ends in themselves. There is no explaining the irony that the U.S., China and even South Korea seem inclined to help the North Korean regime at the very time when it is facing its biggest crisis.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com