Peace, Commerce and Honest Friendship With... North Korea?
by Joshua Snyder
Recently by Joshua Snyder: Who's
Provoking Whom in the†Koreas?
in his inaugural, addressing what would later come to be known as
"foreign policy," called for "peace, commerce and honest friendship
with all nations; entangling alliances with none." His country has
been ignoring his sage advice for more than a century. And nowhere
on the planet has his advice been more roundly transgressed than
on the Korean peninsula, where, for the past six decades, it is
not only ignored, but indeed reversed.
With the southern
half of that tragically divided country, America finds herself tied
up in an "entangling alliance," and with the northern half, rather
than "peace, commerce and honest friendship," we find war, sanctions,
and animosity. Didn't George Washington warn us against "the mischiefs
of foreign intrigue" resulting from "excessive partiality for one
foreign nation and excessive dislike of another" in his farewell
permanent and entangling alliance with South Korea is a no-brainer.
If the alliance ever made sense, it clearly no longer does. Americans
find themselves expending treasure and potentially blood defending
one of the richest countries in the world against one of the poorest.
Lest one point to China, South Korea has been enjoying decades of
friendly political and commercial relations with the regional power.
(Do they read Jefferson in South Korea?) The South Koreans have
even been attempting the same with the North, with some degree of
success, and with much opposition from Washington (the misnamed
imperial capital, not the Founder of the Country).
commerce and honest friendship with North Korea? Surely Thomas Jefferson,
that lover of liberty, would not advocate extending peace, commerce
and honest friendship to a tyrannical, Stalinist state like North
Korea? Of course, such nightmare states could hardly have been imagined
in Jefferson's time, products of late modernity that they are. Thus,
the more important question is whether our six-decade-old policy
of war, sanctions, and animosity has brought any change to North
Korea, which it obviously has not, with a third Kim in line for
to that question is whether a policy of peace, commerce and honest
friendship, which is affected by people not states at the deepest
level, might not be better at bringing some measure of freedom to
the long-suffering people of North Korea. There is every indication
that it would, if one is willing to go beyond the "analysis" offered
by the mainstream media's "experts" on Korea and read accounts by
scholars who actually know the country and her language.
the first of Jefferson's specifics, peace, we can turn to
Asia Times Online correspondent Peter Lee, whose analysis
of the WikiLeaks cables in his Dec. 4, 2010 article Dear
Leader's designs on Uncle Sam explained clearly that "North
Korea is desperate to establish relations with the United States."
prospect, Kim Keun-sik, a professor of North Korean Studies at Kyungnam
University in Seoul, quoted by Sunny Lee in her Mar. 16, 2011 Asia
Times Online article, Don't
let Kim be misunderstood, argues that this would be "the best
conduit to integrate the country into the international community,"
saying, "Establishing diplomatic relations will do."
Then why not
sign the peace treaty ending the Korean War and establish diplomatic
relations with North Korea? Is it that important that Hollywood
and video game makers have a politically correct enemy? Is it that
important that the Pentagon have a percieved enemy to con the American
people out of more tax dollars?
Moving to the
effect that commerce is already having within the country,
we turn to Andrei Lankov, among the most perceptive pundits on North
Korea, having studied in the country and grown up in the Soviet
Union, giving him first-hand experience of life under similar economic,
political, and cultural tyranny. In his Mar. 11, 2011 offering for
Asia Times Online, Why
the Kim regime will falter, Prof. Lankov says that each "report
that another famine was looming in North Korea" reminds him "the
Soviet media's habit of reporting that a crisis in the capitalist
West was becoming ever-more profound."
He goes on
to explain that "in recent years, the economic situation of the
population has improved markedly," and more importantly, why "these
changes do not necessarily bode well for the regime's future." He
rebel when their lives are desperate: they are too busy looking
for food and basic necessities. Most revolutions happen in times
of relative prosperity and are initiated by people who have time
and energy to discuss social issues and to organize resistance.
Another condition for a successful revolution is a widespread
belief in some alternative that is allegedly better than present-day
little doubt that the North Korean elite welcome signs of economic
growth, but paradoxically, this growth makes their situation less,
not more, stable. North Koreans are now less stressed and have
some time to think and talk Ė more so since the once formidable
surveillance and indoctrination system was damaged during the
crisis of the 1990s, perhaps beyond repair.
perhaps the foremost outside scholar of North Korean propaganda,
noted the same, warning us against "North Korea watchers who speak
no Korean" in an Apr. 1, 2009 editorial for The New York Times,
with the refreshingly non-interventionist title To
Beat a Dictator, Ignore Him, in which he also goes deeper into
explaining the paradox for the regime that economic growth entails:
As for economic
matters, the leadership in the North has always considered them
secondary to domestic security. If the masses lived well, fine,
but Mr. Kimís father, Kim Il-sung, once told the East German dictator
Erich Honecker that they behaved better when they didnít. In the
mid-1990s, when Kim Jong-il was forced to choose between opening
his country to the outside world and letting perhaps a million
citizens starve to death, he did just what his father would have
now know that they are much poorer than their brethren in the
South. They know this not just because the information cordon
that once sealed off the country is in tatters, but also because
the Kim Jong-il regime openly, even proudly, admits the gross
economic disparity. The propaganda apparatus assures the masses
that their heroic sacrifices are helping to nuclearize the North
and keep America down. They are also told that the South Korean
masses, for all their material comfort, are ashamed of being under
the thumb of the Yankees and yearn to live under Kim Jong-il.
defector Mok Yong Jae, writing on Mar. 10, 2011 for Daily NK,
a reliable online journal run by defectors that never falls into
the trap of exaggeration, clarifies in his article, Economic
Role in the Spotlight, that it was not socialist planning but
"ten years of North-South economic cooperation" that have brought
about the economic improvements Prof. Lankov spoke of. Mr. Mok also
quotes South Korean Minister of Unification Hyun In Taek as suggesting
that "unification would be more readily feasible once the average
income of North Koreans rose to approximately $3,000."
Mr. Mok also
quotes Professor Kim Yong Ho of Yonsei University about the fact
that "50,000 North Korean people are working in the Kaesong Industrial
Complex," an area where South Korean firms are allowed to operate.
Prof. Kim says, "If we include their families, itís like having
200,000 people in the Kaesong Complexís sphere of influence. As
with the way to achieving German Unification, from East Germany
through Hungary to West Germany, Kaesong too can play the role of
a channel for influence."
conservatives in South Korea and the United States have long maligned
the "Sunshine Policy" of economic engagement with North Korea, defectors
themselves, and the local experts they quote, understand that it
is indeed the best way to effect long-term change in the North.
Why not let trade bring about the economic growth necessary for
the North Korean people to bring about regime change in their own
country? While it might be gradual and piecemeal, in the long run,
it will be far more cost effective than continuing the confrontational
policies of the last six decades.
On April 4,
2011, Kim Jong-wook of South Korea's JoongAng Daily reported
on a delegation of North Koreans sent to Stamford University to
study free market economics, in his article, Capitalism
101 Tour for Northerners ends. Let us hope this is a first step
towards peace, commerce and honest friendship with North Korea.
Catholic son-in-law of Korea, Joshua Snyder [send
him mail] lives with his wife and two children in Pohang, where
he lectures English at a science and technology university. He blogs
at The Western Confucian.
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