June 1, 2004｜Korean Peninsula
Han Tong Seong
Assistant Professor, Korea University
The Korean Peninsula situation, which has shown signs of coming to life once more as a result of General Secretary Kim Jong Il’s visit to China and the Pyongyang Summit between Japan and the DPRK, has made me realize that the “end of the beginning”, about which I wrote in a previous opinion article, is not that far away.
However, there seems to be no end to the DPRK-bashing in the mass media and airing of speculation that serves only its own interests seeking to portray the DPRK as an “inscrutable country”. It seems as though it is permissible to interpret the DPRK issue as one pleases, riding roughshod over the thoughts and logic of those who are actually involved.
What I would like to make so bold as to assert here is that the DPRK’s logic with regard to international relations is consistent and based on rigid principles, forming the antithesis to the crude intelligibility of the selfish and self-serving logic of the US. This can be expressed in a single phrase as the “theory of world autonomy”, but it can be explained as a theory regarding the process of the development of nations and a model for international relations based on this.
In Korea, starting with the ideas that the nation is the basic unit for improving the lot of the people and that autonomy is the lifeblood of a nation, the development process of nations is not considered to be a process in which one nation is assimilated or absorbed by another nation, but is a process in which mutual harmony and cooperation between the nations expand on the basis of the principle of complete equality and self-determination, while each nation uninhibitedly builds its own indigenous lifestyle and history. Of course, as society develops and interaction among nations becomes closer, their common ground will increase, but this must be strictly premised on the individual development of each nation on its own terms.
From this is derived the thesis that solidarity and harmony based on autonomy is truly a model for international relations, to which mankind should aspire. That is to say, there are many nations and states around the world, which have their own indigenous characteristics; however, all nations and states are essentially equal and free. Therefore, a proper international relationship is one in which autonomous nations and states interact and cooperate with each other. To put it another way, a robust, equitable relationship can only really be realized under conditions in which the independent development of each nation and state is guaranteed and each other’s autonomy is respected. When autonomy is trampled underfoot, inequality and discord are sure to be the result, and true solidarity and cooperation cannot be achieved.
The juche philosophy, which defines autonomy as the lifeblood of mankind, is the basis for this kind of logic. It is an ideology premised on the concept that, just as human beings are equal to each other as a result of their autonomy, autonomy is the lifeblood of nations and states, so even if there are differences in their size and level of economic development, there should be no relationships of dominance or subjugation among them whatsoever; consequently, in international relations, no form of exclusionism, discrimination, privilege or dogmatism should be permitted.
As we can see from this, gaining autonomy means establishing a world in which solidarity and cooperation are realized on the basis of autonomy between nations and states, without domination or servitude in international relations.
In this situation, autonomous development and cooperation in international exchange are not mutually contradictory but can be seen as a uniform trend in the development of international relations. As mankind is a united whole whose component parts are nations and states, interaction and cooperation among them can be strengthened only when each nations and states are autonomously developed. Moreover, the more that international exchange and cooperation advance, the more favorable conditions for the autonomous development of nations and states will arise. In other words, it is a concept that states that gaining autonomy is true internationalization.
The lessons of the 20th century form the backdrop to Korea’s embrace of such logic. At the beginning of the previous century, the modern development of the Korean nation was stunted by the Japanese colonial administration and the tragedy of partition has been imposed as a result of the interests of major powers, even though it had been liberated from colonial rule after World War II. For Korea, which has constantly been a victim of domination, its people being left without a country in the first half of the 20th century and the nation being partitioned in the latter half, that autonomy is the lifeblood of a nation truly is a profound lesson that Korea has learned over the course of the history of its struggle.
If we take this philosophy as our point of departure, which can be described as the antithesis to the “theory of force” or “American globalism”, we may be able to gain a clear, coherent picture of the DPRK’s approaches and aims in tackling a solution to the nuclear issue, the improvement of DPRK-US and DPRK-Japan relations, North-South cooperation and unification, and peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia.
[Translated by ERINA]