Wisdom of Aesop’s Fables
By Lee Chang-sup
The sun has been setting on Kim Daejung’s grave at the National Cemetery in Seoul. His Sunshine Policy was inspired by Aesop’s Fable, titled the “North Wind and the Sun.” He devised it out of the conviction that only the sun, not the wind, makes a passing traveler remove his cloak.
He believed that no matter how hard the North Wind blew at a traveler, he would wrap his cloak tighter. The fable highlights persuasion as being better than force ? kindness, gentleness, and persuasion win where force fails. The fable worked for a decade in Korea under two liberal presidents, and peace appeared to have been within reach.
The conservative Lee Myung-bak government concluded it was unworkable with the North Korean regime. It decided to play the role of the North Wind and make the reclusive state go naked. The two Koreas severed the existing ties last month. After the naval tragedy, Kim Jong-il became the “Boy Who Cried Wolf,” another famous fable. He dismissed as fabrication the conclusion that his country was behind the attack.
Like a protagonist in the fable, he tricked North Koreans into believing that the South and American imperialists were looking to attack them. The threat of a war is a convenient excuse for a dictator to rally the support of innocent citizens.
North Koreans, who have long been deprived of outside information, were unable to believe the alarm was false.
The South initially planned to talk directly with the North Koreans. The military put on hold its plan to resume a propaganda war through loudspeakers on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) this month. The loudspeakers are of such a high decibel rating that propaganda can reach deep into Gaeseong.
Conservative NGOs were to fly air balloons, inside which were rolls of paper criticizing the tyranny and brutality of the North’s leader. The balloons are sophisticated enough to reach Pyongyang. This psychological warfare is the most detestable thing for the dictator.
The North Korean military has threatened to shut down the Gaeseong industrial park, the first joint venture between the two Koreas. A close of the complex will completely end the remaining exchanges. Unless Kim apologizes for the naval tragedy, he would become the Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Kim has also acted as another protagonist in the “Fox and the Grapes,” another of the fables. To earn cash, he offered an olive branch to the South. The South provided cash, rice and other goods to the regime on the bestscenario assumption that its poor neighbor would behave decently.
However, once one dollar was given, he demanded two dollars, later three dollars and more. To extort more, he devised bizarre tactics. He conducted nuclear tests twice. Lee snubbed the brinkmanship. Kim regards Mt. Geumgang tourism and the Gaeseong project as “sour grapes,” and Kim despises what he cannot get. Perhaps he may be worried over the freezing of aid and cash.
For the time being, his regime can survive if China continues to support it, but if Beijing turns its back on Pyongyang, Kim might find it difficult to run the country. He set 2012, the centenary of his father’s birth, as a target year for making the North a militarily strong and economically prosperous country. He promised that his people would “eat soup with meat, wear silk clothes and live in tiled-roof houses” by then.
Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are hares in another Aesop’s fable. They had ridiculed the slow development of the South Korean tortoise. In the 1960s and the early 1970s, the North was ahead of the South economically, but since then, the Kims have taken a nap midway through the economic development of their neighbor.
When they awoke, however, they found that their competitor, crawling slowly but steadily, had become the 14th-largest economy in the world. The younger Kim falsely believes that he won the race because he has several nuclear weapons to exterminate the South.
Looking at recent developments, one cannot help but appreciate the ancient wisdom in Aesop’s fables. The only problem with the Sunshine Policy was Seoul’s unconditional provision of money to the Kim regime. It was not a good idea, since Kim used this money to strengthen his hold on power. As long as the money was spent on activities which encouraged interactions between South and North Koreans, it was good.
Another loophole in the policy was that it was a process that was not result-oriented. Conservatives believe there will be no real detente until the North drops its focus on defense and reunification and changes to a policy of placing priority on its economy and people’s lives. They contend this cannot happen under the Kim regime and may not happen without the removal of the Kim dynasty.
Despite its flaws, it is still regarded as the most feasible policy for inter-Korean detente. Lee does not think the Sunshine Policy is what he really wants. The North has also made it clear that it would not improve ties with the South, at least during Lee’s presidency. So at least for the next two years, the Koreas may be in a cooling-off period.
Next week marks the 10th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit. Fans of the Sunshine Policy will discuss the meaning of the historic summit at commemorative seminars. The inconvenient reality is that it is difficult to find an exit strategy from the inter- Korean impasse. The sinking of a South Korean warship also torpedoed the Nobel laureate’s engagement policy.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.