<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> WorldTribune.com: Mobile — Symphony in the North, pragmatism in the South: Springtime for Korea?

Symphony in the North, pragmatism in the South: Springtime for Korea?

Thursday, March 6, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

UNITED NATIONS — Recently there’s been an extraordinary series of events in Korea — both South and North. The inauguration of a new democratically elected South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul, has significantly changed the political tenor in South Korea. The historic visit of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to Pyongyang, and then to Seoul, has offered a cultural opening for cautious ties between Washington and totalitarian North Korea. Whether or not these momentous events in Seoul and Pyongyang serve as a prelude to harmonious political relations between both sides of the divided peninsula, clearly remain problematic.

First and foremost, the inauguration of President Lee, a conservative, heralded a significant break with the South Korea’s recent past; its often politically muddled subsidy of communist North Korea, its strained ties with Washington, and its faltering economy. Lee, elected in a landslide in December, has made unapologetic pledges for renewed closer ties with the USA, pragmatism in its policy towards communist North Korea, and a focused plan to revive the domestic economy. As the former Mayor of Seoul, known as the “Bulldozer,” Lee is expected to push his pragmatic programs through.

It won’t be easy. Nuclear armed North Korea remains a loose cannon confronting East Asia security, especially South Korea and Japan. Multilateral diplomacy, known as the Six party talks, have brought both Korean governments, China, Japan , the U.S., and Russia together to negotiate to de-nuclearize North Korea. This formula allows for maximum transparency in the often murky dealings between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the outside world. North Korea has grudgingly allowed some openness in its disputed nuclear sites but verifiable disarmament is a long way off.

Indeed South Korea’s former left-wing government was part of the problem, not the solution. President Roh Moo-hyun’s wishful and fuzzy policies towards Pyongyang, evoked more patronizing and cajoling than pragmatism. For Seoul, subsidizing the moribund socialist state in the North, through the optimistic “Sunshine Policy” not only prolonged the inevitable but validated the rule of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il, and allowed for regime survival, not accountability.

“Once North Korea abandons its nuclear program and chooses the path to openness, we can expect to see a new horizon in inter-Korean cooperation,” the new President stressed. This is certainly possible. A prosperous South Korea can pursue a policy of values integration between both sides and peoples of the divided nation. Cross-border trade, investment, and limited family visits and tourism while a trumpeted highlight of Sunshine Policy, have been a mere shadow of the vibrant but “unofficial” ties across the Taiwan Straits between two de-facto but politically antagonistic Chinese governments.

While Beijing and Taipei agree on few political topics, there’s a booming cross strait commerce, investment on the Mainland, and a flood of Taiwan tourists and businessmen to China. There is little such contact between the estranged Korean cousins on both sides of the DMZ.

Lee stated sagely, “Unification of the two Koreas is the long-cherished desire of the 70 million Korean people. Inter-Korean relations must become more productive than they are now. Our attitude will be pragmatic, not ideological. The core task is to help all Koreans live happily and to prepare the foundation for unification.”

Second, Regarding relations with Washington Lee intoned; “We will work to develop and further strengthen traditional friendly ties with the United States into a future-oriented partnership.” He continued, “Based on the deep mutual trust that exists between the two peoples, we will also strengthen our strategic alliance with the United States.” Such a policy statement from Seoul which would have been a near political given a decade ago, had become equivocal and qualified over the past five years.

The landmark U.S/South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty stands as a firm and tested foundation both to ensure security and continue economic development.

Third, the historic if controversial visit of the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang,

set the stage for some non-traditional diplomacy. Much like America’s “ping-pong diplomacy” in Mao’s China in the 1970’s, contemporary North Korea is similarly self-isolated and politically cloned to the Kim cult. So when Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel took the stage to play the popular Korean folk anthem “Arirang” and raised his arms to start the piece, the audience hushed. Thunderous applause amid tears, in both capitals, followed the melancholic musical finale.

“There's no sides - there's no North and South in Arirang,” Maazel later told The Associated Press after the triumphant performance that brought the orchestra's trip full-circle, “a melody for everybody. All these artificially created barriers fade away.” This may be wishful thinking.

After this extraordinary musical interlude, now the really tough part begins anew.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, let us not forget, is from South Korea and thus holds a tremendous opportunity to guide global attention towards solving the nuclear issue as well as easing humanitarian and human rights violations in the North. At long last moves towards harmony and away from the cacophony of confrontation, could herald a Korean Spring.

   WorldTribune Home