October 1, 2002｜Korean Peninsula
Kang Il Chong
Regular Director, Association of Korean Social Scientists in Japan, Part-time Lecturer, Korea University
Readers may think the title to be preposterous or think that I have gone nuts. I may well be berated by people who ask such things as, “How can a country, which cannot even shore up its own economy and living standards, rescue the world economy?” However, it was not my intention to use a paradoxical expression; I am quite sane and intend to put forward a sound argument.
The news has come thick and fast over the last two months or so, leaving one hardly enough time to draw breath. It began with remedial action with regard to economic control measures, including price and wage hikes (believed to have been implemented on July 1st at the instruction of the Cabinet on May 11), followed by a joint press release made at the 7th Inter-Korean Ministerial Talks (August 14th) and simultaneous ground-breaking ceremonies (September 18th) for the projects aimed at re-linking railways in the north and the south of the Korean Peninsula, based on an agreement reached by the North-South Committee for the Promotion of Economic Cooperation. Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to the DPRK and the DPRK-Japan Pyongyang Declaration took place on the previous day and the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK reported an announcement by the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK related to a September 12th decree on setting up the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region. I feel deeply sorry that the staggering outcome of the abduction issue was included in the news; however, on the other hand, I do recognize that it would not have been possible for the DPRK to admitted its responsibility and apologize for the incident without a major change.
To return to the subject, the key word linking this series of developments is “the plight of the DPRK”. There is no longer any route open to the country other than opting for reform and liberalization and it has to make haste to normalize relations with Japan (as this will lead to aid) because there are limits to the support that can be provided by the ROK, the people of which are of the same ethnicity, or other countries with which it is friendly. Even though the DPRK has partly escaped from its plight, it is undeniable that its economy is in trouble. Did Japan decide to visit the DPRK and reopen negotiations on normalization in order to give the DPRK a helping hand out of its economic predicament in exchange for the resolution of the abduction issue and incidents involving suspicious boats? Of course, this is a crucial issue. In addition, it may be commonly known that Japan was encouraged by the U.S. to negotiate with the DPRK with a view to securing a promise on the part of the DPRK to extend the moratorium on launching its missiles (the correct name for which is the “Baitou” multistage rocket) and to fulfill its obligations under its nuclear agreement.
However, there is another significant motive, of which everybody may well be aware (but have not mentioned). In the past, many people harped on about its significance and potential, planned their next move and awaited the appropriate timing. However, even the collapse of the Cold War regime about ten years ago, which was seen to be a chance in a million, could not bring it about. And now, just like the movie “Papillon”, when the hero, played by Steve McQueen, finally found a wave that would enable him to escape from the remote island on which he was stranded, a wave has appeared in front of Japan and the DPRK. Those who discovered the wave and began to move as part of the same current include the leaders of the ROK and the DPRK, President Putin and President Jiang Zemin, as well as the leaders of the EU states. I also think that Prime Minister Koizumi has joined them.
What they found was the prospect of a developed Northeast Asia connected by railways, which President Kim called the “iron silk road”, roads, communications and gas lines, and a new framework for peace and stability. It goes without saying that the Korean Peninsula is the linchpin of this. It is no longer an attack on Iraq or a new war that can save the world economy. Believing that this is the key to creating new mass demand is like being possessed by the ghost of the “permanent war economy”.
The agreement at the summit between Japan and the DPRK will definitely be implanted in history as an epoch-making event that heralded the beginning of a new era. However, this new era will only come to pass if both sides approach the issues in a sincere manner and the U.S. also changes its attitude.
It seems that I ought to change the title of this article to “the normalization of relations between Japan and the DPRK will rescue the global economy”.
[Translated by ERINA]