Despite the ups and downs, it is good the Korean peace process has abated fears of war on the peninsula and brightened prospects for resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis peacefully. But this should not create an illusion that permanent peace is at hand.
It is true that following the hectic summitry involving leaders of the two Koreas and the US, few now talk of the situation reverting to that of last year when the North and US exchanged verbal threats of war over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile provocations. But we must guard against overblown optimism.
Just look at the reality. North Korea has tens of nuclear bombs and devices that can deliver them as far as the US mainland. Add to these menaces conventional weapons that already ranks the country as one of the world’s strongest military powers.
Then think about the fact that despite its leader Kim Jong-un’s fledgling engagement with the outside world, the North is still one of the most isolated states, subject to totalitarian one-man rule, suppresses human rights and maintains among the world’s lowest living standards.
All these factors could change eventually if the peace process goes well. But for now, there has been little change not only in the military threats posed by the North’s asymmetric and conventional warfare capabilities, but also in the way the North Korean ruling elite govern ordinary citizens.
Yet, some misguided pro-North Korean politicians in South Korea are propagating myths as to reality in North Korea. Recently, some politicians have made a series of comments that are ingrained in a high level of bigotry.
The most dangerous viewpoint is that the North deserves its nuclear arsenal. Rep. Song Young-gil, a fourth-term ruling party lawmaker, said last week that it was inevitable for North Korea to develop asymmetric warfare capabilities because it could not stand up to the conventional war power of the South Korea-US combined forces. He also said the North Korean economy is improving because thanks to nuclear weapons it could spend less money on conventional weaponry.
It simply is preposterous for a senior member of a ruling party to justify the North’s possession of nuclear weapons, about which South Korea, Japan and even the US fretted just one year ago amid the specter of a war between the US and North Korea.
Liberal South Korean politicians who have impatient zeal for appeasing the North are also speaking freely about their misguided, distorted views of the situation there.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who accompanied President Moon Jae-in on his visit to North Korea last month, praised the North’s mass gymnastics show, which highlights the country’s propaganda endeavors and which is often accused of being a product of mobilization of a huge number of people, including young students.
The mayor also said there is the possibility that North Korea could become a leader of high-tech industries in a short period of time. This contradicts comments made by none other than Kim Jong-un, who admitted to the backwardness of the North’s economy, infrastructure and transportation in talks with Moon.
Song, who also visited North Korea early this month, said that North Korea is a country which puts priority on family to make it “the happiest land (in the world).” Anyone who has read a news article or book about the human rights conditions and the government and Workers’ Party’s control of people’s daily lives in North Korea would not dare to talk about “happiness” among its citizenry.
Another tendency among those who sympathize with North Korea is that they do not hide their antipathy toward conservatives. For instance, Song accused South Korean conservatives of arguing the North starved people to develop nuclear weapons. He insisted the busiest districts in Pyongyang are as prosperous as Hong Kong or Singapore.
Ruling party leader Lee Hae-chan even did not conceal his antagonism toward conservatives in the presence of North Korean senior officials. He said during a visit to Pyongyang early this month that inter-Korean relations had declined because liberal forces lost power to conservatives in the South and that he would make every effort so that the ruling party stays in power as long as he lives. For him, conservatives are the enemy.
Comments like these are the last things to be expect of political leaders who, in addition to working with reconciliation and peace with the North, have a duty to forge consensus and unity in the South with regards to North Korean affairs. Bigotry is the enemy of unity.