The Fox and the Stork
Current North-South relations resemble Aesop’s fable “Fox and the Stork,” in which the fox poured soup in a shallow dish and offered it to the stork, who, with her long bill, couldn’t eat the soup and left the meal hungry.
President Park Geun-hye generated great expectations for her trip to Germany in late March. The South Korean government had announced in the media that she would unveil a historic “unification doctrine” in Germany and detail her earlier “unification is a jackpot” statement. On March 28, Park visited Dresden of former East Germany and presented her “Initiative for Peaceful Unification on the Korean Peninsula.”
The North’s response has been extremely heated. It has been mobilizing all manner of vitriol aimed at personal attack and indiscriminately hurling verbal explosives at Park Geun-hye and her so-called Dresden proposal. The North’s Worker’s Party publication “Rodong Sinmun” reserves a section of its front page everyday to publish denouncements of Park Geun-hye by various sectors of society with titles like “We Indict Park Geun-hye, who is Raving Mad and Inflaming National Confrontation.”
It was in this context that on March 31, the North and South exchanged artillery fire in the West Sea. And beginning in April, South Korea was swept up in a commotion about North Korean drones. The South Korean Defense Ministry announced the discovery of three drones “suspected of belonging to the North,” and since then, there has been a resurgence of widespread anti-North sentiment.
But until February, just one month prior, North-South relations had been hopeful, rosy even. In January 2014, the North’s Chairman Kim Jong-un proposed improving inter-Korean relations in his New Year’s address and in a open letter, and the South’s President Park Geun-hye declared “Reunification is a jackpot” in her new year press conference. As a result, the two sides met on February 14 at a high-level contact and agreed that both sides would stop slandering each other and hold reunions of separated families from February 20 through 25.
So what happened in the span of one month in March to warrant such bitter animosity from the North?
North-South relations started to go sour in late March. Until mid-March, the North had been grumbling in displeasure and accusing the South of violating their earlier agreement to stop slandering each other. But its criticisms had been tame and merely involved warning statements saying it will continue to observe the situation.
But starting on March 26, the North began to unleash its pent up frustration. That day, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland announced, “On the 24th, the [South’s] puppet army and corrupt party carried out provocative actions by shooting firearms from the five islands including Baekreyong and Yeonpyeong Islands in the West Sea and scattering leaflets that slander our supreme dignity (referring to Chairman Kim Jong-un) and our system,” and vowed to “thrown down a decisive and merciless iron hammer.”
That same morning, the North launched two mid-range ballistic missiles from Pyeongyang into the East Sea. This was mainly interpreted as an expected tit for tat response to the trilateral summit held between South Korea, U.S. and Japan at the Hague in the Netherlands on March 26 and the ROK-US combined “Double Dragon” amphibian landing exercises beginning March 27.
But what really aggravated the North happened between March 27 and 28. On March 27, around 8 pm, the South Korean navy seized a North Korean fishing boat near Baekryeong Island and returned it after 6 hours, and the North angrily alleged that it had been kidnapped by force. A March 28 statement by the spokesperson for the North’s People’s Army General Staff Department was followed by a press conference of the returned fishermen in Pyeongyang on March 29 .
The North alleged that the South Korean navy had illegally trespassed into northern waters and kidnapped the fishing boat by shooting firearms. According to the North Korean fishermen, the South Korean navy assaulted them with steel pipes, forcibly kidnapped them and pressured them to defect. According to a Korea Central News Agency report, soldiers from the North’s People’s Army held a meeting on April 4 in Bupo, South Hwang-hae province, the frontline closest to Yeonpyeong Island, to “resolve to take revenge” and vowed, “As soon as the Supreme Commander hands down the directive, we will turn the enemy’s stronghold into another Yeonpyeong Island ablaze in flames.”
What aggravated the North even more than the fishing boat kidnapping incident was President Park’s remarks on her trip to the Netherlands and Germany from March 24 through 28.
At the opening session of the third Nuclear Security Summit at the Hague, Netherlands on March 24, President Park said the following-
“It would be perilous to global peace if North Korea’s nuclear materials were to fall into the hands of terrorist groups.
“North Korea’s Yongbyeon is home to such a dense concentration of nuclear facilities that a fire in a single building could lead to a disaster potentially worse than Chernobyl, according to the report.
“By any measure, – whether non-proliferation, nuclear security or safety – North Korea`s nuclear programs are cause for enormous concern. The peace and security of the world demands no less than their dismantlement.”
Then the leaders of South Korea, U.S. and Japan held a meeting on the 26th and agreed to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea based on the principle of complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement, and to hold a meeting of the three countries’ chief delegates to the six party talks to strengthen their cooperation in the effort to denuclearize North Korea.
In an interview with a Korea Central News Agency reporter on the 27th, a spokesperson of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland responded, “Park Geun-hye committed a grave error,” and declared, “In regard to the nuclear issue, let it be clear that there can be denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula but never unilateral ‘denuclearization of the north,’ so she should give up her false hope.”
On March 26, at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Park remarked, “Germany is the model for the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula,” and added, “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On this trip, in unified Germany, I hope to develop a vision for a unified Korea.”
In her speech at the Dresden University of Technology on the 28th, President Park presented three proposals to North Korean authorities for laying the groundwork for peaceful unification. President Park’s three proposals include an “Agenda for Humanity– the concerns of everyday people,” “Agenda for Co-prosperity through the building of infrastructure that supports the livelihood of people,” and an “Agenda for Integration between the people of South and North Korea.”
And in her speech, President Park – whose nicknames among South Korean citizens include ‘communication down’ and ‘ice princess’ due to her utter lack of consideration for others – didn’t think twice about choosing expressions that trample on the North’s pride –
“It pained me to see a recent footage of North Korean boys and girls in the foreign media. Children who lost their parents in the midst of economic distress were left neglected out in the cold, struggling from hunger. Even as we speak, there are North Koreans who are risking their lives to cross the border in search of freedom and happiness.
“There is a ‘wall of isolation’ imposed by North Korea’s nuclear program, cutting North Korea off from the community of nations.”
The North was furious. “Park Geun-hye couldn’t shut her half-wit trap blabbering on about her so-called reunification roadmap and ‘economic crisis’ and has severely irritated and insulted us,” it said. As to her claim that Germany is the “model for peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula,” the North called it a “delusion about anti-national unification” (i.e. German-style reunification through absorption), and called the Dresden proposals “uninteresting rubbish” and a “poisoned apple.” The North also expressed displeasure by saying, “She even disrespected our mothers and children when blabbing about her so-called reunification roadmap and such nonsense.” And finally on April 12, the North formally rejected the “Dresden proposal” through a statement of the National Defense Commission, its highest institution of authority.
Just like the fox in Aesop’s fable, President Park offers the North soup that’s impossible to eat. Just as the stork walked away angry at the fox, the North is fuming in anger.
Current North-South relations are as knotted as they can get. Is there no way out? Let’s go back to the Fox and the Stork story. The moral of the story is to put oneself in the other person’s shoes, which requires consideration of the other and a willingness to be understanding. What can Park expect to accomplish by saying things she knows for sure the North will dislike while at the same time declaring “Reunification is a jackpot,” and what is the point of unilaterally declaring a three-part roadmap?
If President Park truly wants an improvement in North-South relations and a road to unification, isn’t it necessary to first honor and show willingness to follow through on the many previous promises made between the North and South – such as the July 4 (1972), June 15 (2000), and the October 4 (2007) joint declarations? And before unilaterally putting forth a three-part roadmap for unification, she might consider eliminating the biggest barrier in North-South relations by lifting the May 24 Measures imposed by the previous Lee Myung-bak government.
Below is a Rodong Sinmun article published on April 1 & April 13 , criticizing President Park Geun-hye’s Dresden Proposals-