To realize peace on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, an important issue is to identify the real stakeholders and troublemakers in the process and work out a practical strategy to guarantee the interests of the true stakeholders and stop the troublemakers from making troubles.
This point is raised because we are facing the reality that some troublemakers have become self-claimed stakeholders and are recognized with much say, who actually have no real interest in the peace of this region.
If we look into history, we should see that the so-called Korean Peninsula issue and the DPRK nuclear issue in themselves are manmade artificial issues – they are not the issues intrinsic with the Peninsula. The Korean Peninsula issue was made out of the two antagonizing superpowers who tried to draw their spheres of influence in East Asia after World War II. The DPRK nuclear issue came up in the 1990s when one of the true stakeholders in the peace process of the Peninsula failed to get any guarantee for its security. Neither of the issues was built-in with the Peninsula but was created by external forces whose interests in the region were not peace
I agree that the Peninsula should be denuclearized. But the denuclearization is a means to the peace of the Peninsula, and it is not the end. Our end, our goal, is the regional peace. Therefore we should look into the genuine root cause undermining our fundamental goal of peace rather than some superficial phenomena. I confess that I feel uneasy at the nuclear tests staged by the DPRK, but I don’t think they are the root cause of the trouble. The root cause is they are deprived of the sense of security.
About a week ago, after two Chinese media outlets ran a series of commentaries criticizing the DPRK nuclear tests, I took a taxi and found the driver tuning to the news on radio all the time. So I asked him what he thought about the DPRK nuclear issue. He said, That’s understandable. They had no way out, and it was their only choice. I asked if he was worried about the nuclear infiltration, and he said, I don’t think it could go to that stage. He also said, the DPRK’s nuclear weapons could not match those from the United States, but might be enough to frighten someone like Japan.
This is typical of the common sense of ordinary Chinese people, only their opinions are hardly expressed in media.
If the Korean Peninsula issue and the DPRK nuclear issue are not built-in problems, we should take a step further to see who are the real stakeholders of the peace of the Peninsula. Those who made the region unrest and unpeaceful are certainly not the true stakeholders. Utmost of them should be Japan, which was the first to provoke war on the Peninsula in the late 19th century. Then the United States should be excluded from the list of true stakeholders. I don’t think Russia is a stakeholder either, as its predecessor the Soviet Union was involved in the act to divide the Peninsula into two parts, resulting in many problems today.
The real stakeholders who have intrinsic interests in the peace of the Peninsula since history should be the two Koreas and China. China has been involved in issues related to Korea since ancient time and has a close relation with the Peninsula both in history and in geography. The peace of the Peninsula is directly linked to the stability of Northeast China and China at large. China has intrinsic interests in Korea but never attempts to control any part of it, and this is manifested in the fact that the Chinese People’s Volunteers withdrew all its forces from the north shortly after the Korean War Truce but the U.S. military presence has remained in the south to this day.
So a prominent problem in the peace process of the Korean Peninsula is that some of the troublemakers that manmade the issue have become seemingly stakeholders and gained a lot of say on the issue. This is not right.
Actually as a true stakeholder, the South Korean people’s voice and presence were absent when the armistice that ended the Korean War was signed on July 27, 1953. The agreement of uneasy truce was signed between the United States, North Korea and China. South Korea, despite its heavy casualties during the war, was absent most probably because the South Korean regime at the time was really a puppet, not only in the eyes of its rivalries but also in the eyes of its allies. And they could not represent the majority of the South Korean people.
This should go against the will of the South Korean people and they waged constant protests and demonstrations and uprisings against the United States and against the puppets to the US but military dictators to their own people for decades.
To us outsiders who are not quite familiar with this history, the popular power of South Korea erupted as if all of a sudden in an amazing momentum first in May 1980 in the Gwangju Uprising, and then in a series of other demonstrations leading to the June Democratic Uprising in 1987 that finally ended the authoritarian rule in South Korea.
As an amateur observer of this history, I think there should be a linkage in these movements between the South Korean people’s pursuit for democracy and their cry for peaceful unification. At a time when the very mentioning of unification was a taboo that could land one into jail in this country, the South Korean people’s struggle for democracy could not be separated from their desire for peace on their homeland.
However, although the people’s movements led to direct election of presidents in South Korea and tainted the country with democracy, although the South Korean government posthumously reevaluated the uprisings and officially honored the dead in the Gwangju Uprising and made May 18 a national day of commemoration, and although some of the prominent figures of the uprisings were even elected presidents, peace did not come by. Even though we could say South Korea has gained a say in negotiations for peace, like in the Six-Party Talks, some of the negotiators under some administrations might not represent the interests of a stakeholder.
If we look back into the past three decades we could see there were times when the North-South relations eased with closer contacts between the two sides, with more people-to-people exchanges and with some economic cooperation projects. President Kim Dae-jung even went to Pyongyang to meet the leader of North Korea, which really gave us a glimpse of hope for peace on the Peninsula.
Unfortunately, his Sunshine Policy failed to sustain and the two most prominent presidents for their favorable policies towards the north and towards the peace on the Peninsula, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo Hyun, ended rather in tragedy. After them, tensions on the peninsula escalated and culminated in the United States’ move to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, THAAD, in South Korea under the Park Geun-hye administration, which only intensified the situation more than ever in decades.
At this juncture when many assumed another Korean war was impending, the South Korean people amazed the world once again by having Park Geun-hye impeached and imprisoned. The election of Moon Jae-in is a strong signal that the people of South Korea would say no to the THAAD and no to war.
Whether the new president of South Korea will and is capable to remove the THAAD and the hovering war threat remains to be seen. But events we have witnessed over the past three decades have told us one thing: There are both external and internal forces around this country that are unwilling or reluctant to see peace on the Peninsula. Whenever there was some progress in the process to bring peace back on the Peninsula, these forces came in to interrupt the process and push peace away.
The interruption took different forms: economic crisis, new accusations of the alleged DPRK offenses or atrocities, or scandals involving politicians favoring improved relations with the North. It was like a vicious cycle, but the cycle has kept the peace of the Korean Peninsula on talks only.
So there are troublemakers and even worse, there are troublemakers who have been disguised as stakeholders and sometimes they have more say than the real stakeholders.
Here I’m very sorry to admit that we in China have witnessed an ever estranged if not deteriorating relationship with the DPRK, at least in terms of media coverage. To a considerable extent, the rather prevailing negative impression of the DPRK especially among Chinese academic should be attributed to media. We rarely see any positive coverage of North Korea in Chinese media and any news about the DPRK we could read in China, mostly on social media, are reports slandering and demonizing the country. And they are dominantly sourced in South Korea.
Even if I and a few other friends don’t believe them, we don’t have the resources to convince many other Chinese not to take them in. And even though I don’t believe those slandering reports pointing to North Korea as a troublemaker, I did not know there was voice in South Korea attributing the unrest on the Peninsula to its real root until I had the opportunity to come here to participate in the activities commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Truce in 2013.
During that visit, I was surprised to see a large number of people in South Korea demanding the United States to sign a peace treaty with the DPRK and stop hostility to it. It was the first time I knew that there was such vision ad voice on the side of the south.
Yet this vision is unknown to most people in China, this voice is also unheard by most of them. We were with more than 10,000 people in front of the City Hall of Seoul that evening, demonstrating to urge the US to withdraw its military presence from the Peninsula and pave the way for peace, but this activity was simply ignored by the mainstream media everywhere, China included. I didn’t see a word mentioning the event in any Chinese media.
It is a pity but it is the reality we have to deal with. So I think when we discuss the peace progress on the Korean Peninsula, it is necessary to identify the troublemakers, the forces that don’t want peace in the region, expose them and bare their lies. Then we should diminish and finally deprive their say on the issue, but expand the say of the true stakeholders.
Finally, we should not pin hope of peace in politicians only but in ourselves. Politicians often play games rather than seriously embrace the regional peace, especially when their interests are in the unrest of this region. Moon Jae-in’s win has once again indicated that the ordinary people’s force is essential in the endeavor to gain peace on the Peninsula. So the people’s voice should not be missing in any step of the process of peace, and the voice must be uttered loud and clear.
By Prof. Xiong Lei
The 4th Media