The Challenges of Globalization
Responding To: In Search of Resolution on North Korea
Negotiations Are the Only Permanent Solution
During the five-day simulation and listening to different views from many sides at Georgetown University, we mentioned the word “war” more than just once. However, on my way home it suddenly came to me that in a sense, we, including people from both Beijing and Washington, are outsiders after all. We can launch a war easily of course, but who will bear the consequences of the war? It must be the people who are really living on the Korean Peninsula. We should know that a war is not just “one” tragedy, but thousands of families’ tragedies. So, I was wondering whether we were talking about war too easily. Does launching a war really display a responsible attitude towards the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) nuclear issue?
None of us want a peninsula full of conflict and despair, or a generation drenched in hate. Can a war bring what we really want? Can a war put things right once and for all? Before answering these questions, I wanted to know more about what the people are thinking on the Korean Peninsula.
Several days ago, I asked one of my South Korean friends’ opinion on the DPRK nuclear problem. She posted my questions on her university website (Seoul National University) and raised a heated discussion. One question was “Do you think the South Korean people are willing to move towards unity?” Beyond my expectation, 80 to 90 percent of students were not willing to unify as it would lead to heavy taxes. My friend told me historically North Koreans had killed many South Koreans during the Korean War, so never expect people to forget all these things and warmly embrace the reunification.
Of course, this is just the opinion of some young people in South Korea. But it still worries me—the war will not end with the armistice. It has long-lasting impacts on the society. After the fire and fury, will there be another “fire and fury” to cause social unrest?
As for the young peoples’ opinion in DPRK, it’s difficult for me to find a friend there. However, when Evan Osnos travelled to North Korea, he heard an interesting question from a little boy, “Why is America trying to provoke a war with us? And what right do they have to block us from building our own nuclear weapon?” You see, in the sound of official propaganda, what they are thinking is quite different from us. With differing ideological presumptions, cultural backgrounds, and social values, misunderstanding and distrust lie everywhere. Can a war do any help to eliminate all of these?
What’s more, war is much more unpredictable. If the DPRK were backed into a corner with no exit and Mr. Kim Jong-un really launched a missile with a nuclear warhead, can we truly bear the consequences of a nuclear war?
Some people will say that although it has many drawbacks, the war may be the only way we can settle the problem quickly. However, I want to say, in the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine theory, we focus more on whether the disease is cured thoroughly rather than just giving a temporary solution.
Are negotiations just a waste of time? Have we reached a point that we have to send thousands of our young people to the battlefield? Let’s look back to the "9·19" joint statement signed in 2005. We will find there what the two most important parties of the peninsula nuclear issue really want. The main demands of the United States are to ask the DPRK side to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs. The main concern of the DPRK side is that the U.S. side may attack or invade North Korea with nuclear weapons or conventional weapons. Although the “9·19” joint statement was not well executed, I think it was of great significance and depicted the ideal situation for all parties involved in the DPRK nuclear issue. When we visited the China Embassy, Ambassador Cui Tiankai said, “The core and essence of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is a security problem.” That’s to say, the original intention of both sides is to be safe. By balancing the reasonable security concerns of the parties, we can open a door to a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the peninsula. Of course, to avoid the fruits of talks going bad, every party needs to show more sincerity, sit down, and talk through dialogue to enhance mutual trust. Some strict punishment for tearing up the contract can also be considered.
Above all, I insist that maintaining the lasting peace and stability of the peninsula and the region is the only way to accord with the common interests of all the parties concerned.
Haile Chen is a junior at Tsinghua University in Beijing, majoring in construction management and minoring in finance.
COMMENT FROM HONGJIN XU (January 22, 2018):
Haile, your post powerfully expressed your ideas that negotiations among all involved nations are necessary for this North Korea nuclear crisis, and the only permanent one. I partly agree with you on that, especially that war shall not be considered for the sake of people’s security. And I think it shares my views that we need to reach a consensus first, to make sure we are at the same line so no counteractive measure would be taken by each country, otherwise it would be a waste of previous efforts. Also, I like your and your friend’s method of doing an online survey/discussion in Seoul National University, it’s a first-hand result and tells us what young people’s attitudes are in a country which is directly affected by this nuclear crisis and has long been in a stand-off with its north counterpart. But I have to say, the United States and China are not outsiders in this problem: China and the North Korea share borders, if there is any war or mishandled missile launching, the chaos and refugee influx would be predictable. Likewise, starting a war means the United States needs to send troops in, both a heavy cost on domestic expenses and personnel, and also might trigger further military deployment change in Asia.
COMMENT FROM RUOLIN ZHAO (January 20, 2018):
I agree that war is not a solution to the unification of the Korea Peninsula, and I really like how you have interviewed South Korean friends for a first-hand perspective! It is so important to know what the people actually think beyond the sketches in media reports. I think the reason why the United States has claimed “all options are on the table” is that it prioritizes de-nuclearization and its own security above everything else. The relationship between the two Koreas is periphery to the urgent threat that an ICBM poses on the U.S. homeland. Additionally, I think both the U.S. and Chinese governments understand the consequences of war on the peninsula. The rhetoric of war is mainly brinksmanship of the U.S. government that appeals to its domestic audience and poses pressure on Kim Jong Un to give up, but it has been totally counter-effective. The United States has gone far beyond a third-party mediator, as Kim Jong Un directs state propaganda to target specifically at the United States in delivering safety concerns. Deeper than the cultural gap between the Koreas is the ideological difference and mistrust between the United States and North Korea, remaining to be resolved.
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