Author: jae won hur – op-ed editor
As an only child, I never experienced the “troublesome sibling.” You know what I mean? The belligerent, havoc-causing sibling that serves as precedent to other siblings (ruining their fun), and turns to family to bail them out. However, as a South Korean, I fully sympathize with that family dynamic, as I am confined into a similar relationship with the Northern side of the peninsula.
Although North and South Korea are currently at war with one another (technically), it is difficult to funnel our relationship as enemies. South Koreans view the North as one of their own, as there are many divided bloodlines within the peninsula.
About 72,000 South Koreans are waiting to attend family reunion events with lost family with the North, which can only mean that there are even more divided related North and South Koreans. On the other hand, the North’s dictatorship has brainwashed the general population into thinking that the South is a dark entity of evil and have derailed any positive sentiment to the South.
To complicate this dynamic, the North’s already terrible living conditions have been eroding immensely. The North is facing a terrible drought that has caused, as the North claims, about 40% of the rice fields to be parched. Inevitably, this means spikes in malnutrition and starvation. The North, which the UN has stated as having the 167th worst health care system in the world, is facing a humanitarian disaster.
Throughout history, South Korea has provided aid to the North even amidst war. Until 2010, South Korea provided fertilizer to the North, but had to stop when the North sank one of its Navy ships. Even recently, South Korea offered help as long as the North requested it. But, just like a prideful and belligerent sibling, North Korea acted out against the South.
Earlier this month, two South Korean soldiers were maimed, heavily wounding them. The North refused to apologize. In retaliation, the South Koreans set up loudspeakers blaring condemnation of the Kim dynasty along the border (I’m surprised it wasn’t StarCraft commentary). The North threatened war and the two sides even exchanged artillery fire. Tensions deescalated when the South agreed to turn off the loudspeakers and express “regrets” for maiming the soldiers.
What frustrates and saddens me about this episode is that the people of the North will suffer due to another episode of belligerence. The North often spurs belligerences like these when they are in trouble for leverage in settlement negotiations. In this case, however, the South Koreans already offered the North aid as long as they asked for it. How is the South supposed to reach a diplomatic aid agreement when the North keeps sneaking across the border and planting maims to attack soldiers? How will the government ease domestic tensions and conjure up aid packages after two of South Korea’s soldiers lost their legs? How are the peninsular diplomatic relationships going to be bridged when the North continues to widen the divide?
For me, the main priority has to be the people of North Korea. They shouldn’t suffer due to the regime that wages war on the world. As a result, the South and the western world need to act pragmatically to help the North. First, the West needs to stop making motion movies like “The Interview” ridiculing North Korea for our entertainment. This only drives up anti-Western sentiment within the North and further divides diplomatic relations. Secondly, we need to use sanctions sparingly, as they will hurt the people of North Korea gravely. Also, the South must take a high-road approach and prioritize avoiding humanitarian disaster on-hand rather than carry resentment. Lastly, dialogue must be maintained. The West must team up with China to get the North to the table. With concessions of humanitarian aid, which they are desperate for, we must negotiate for them to loosen their militaristic power and missile research to mitigate their immense military power. Because at the end of the day, we should never give up on family.