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Posted : 2010-12-22 17:28
Updated : 2010-12-22 17:28

After the drill

Seoul should regain initiative in fight and talk

After a month of live-fire artillery drills and life-taking real attacks, the West Sea has calmed down ― for now. But the brief relief among South Koreans has quickly been replaced by a constant sense of apprehension about North Korea’s next provocations. The pseudo-peace cannot and should not last long. Seoul must relieve this uneasy calmness through its own initiatives.

As some North Korea experts predicted, the reclusive regime returned to the dialogue phase of its two-track diplomacy just now. It was a vintage Pyongyang move when it proposed U.N. monitors’ inspection and the sale of spent nuclear fuel rods following a deadly shelling on a populated island.

Seoul is right to doubt the sincerity of the North Korean proposal. Unless the communist regime allows the U.N. officials to inspect its uranium-enrichment facilities, the visit would end up as much ado about nothing. Nor has the belated fuel sale much meaning for the same reason.

But these are no reasons for the Lee Myung-bak administration to spurn them as just political gestures, but to seize them as opportunities for a diplomatic counterattack. Seoul, instead of adhering to the five preconditions it has set for resuming the six-party talks, will need to be bolder by accepting the dialogue offer and including the inspection of uranium power plants in inspection targets, to send the ball back to the North’s court.

The key lies in Seoul returning to the center of the diplomatic stage instead of shying away from it and only calling for the change in Pyongyang’s attitude.

While South Korea has maintained its own version of the ``strategic patience” ― waiting for either the North’s voluntary denuclearization or implosion ― Pyongyang has gone even more wayward to insult Seoul with unprovoked violence, while the two Northern partners of China and Russia have come to admonish the South on self-restraint, unreasonably treating the villain and victim as the same. There is no reason whatsoever for South Korea to endure this insult and humiliation by remaining as a passive player.

The time has long passed for the South to drastically enhance both its defense and diplomatic capabilities. In any all-out war, the South is certain to win over the North, as there is more than 40 times’ the gap in the economic powers of two Koreas. But an eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula should be through cooperation and reconciliation, not through violence and war.

To persuade China and Russia that the Koreas’ reunification under Seoul’s control will not be harmful to them, the South needs a far more active and skillful diplomacy with the two northern powers. And such efforts should begin now by more flexibly responding to their proposals for regional dialogue. Seoul should of course maintain and even enhance military alliances with the United States and Japan, but that should be no reason to alienate Russia and China at least diplomatically.

If it fails in one of the two key capabilities of defense and diplomacy, South Korea ― or the Koreas ― will remain as guests on their own land in both fight and talk.
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