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Minutes of Meeting with Dr. Ulrich Beck
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Minutes of Meeting with Dr. Ulrich Beck
 
 
n  Date : April 4, 2008
n  Place : President Kim’s Residence
n  Participant : President Kim Dae-jung
Dr. & Prof. Ulrich Beck
Dr. & Prof. Han Sang-jin
 
 
 
President : It’s an honor to have a world-renowned scholar like you here in my residence.
 
Dr. Beck : I am more honored.
 
President : I heard your wife came to Korea together with you. I hope she will have a nice time around here. 
 
Dr. Beck : My wife is also a sociology professor and she is attending conferences together with me. We had a great time at the conferences.
 
President : These days, inter-Korean relations seems to be rather strained and move toward confrontation. I am concerned about such development. What do you think of the current situation?
 
Dr. Beck : From the perspective of sociology, especially from the perspective of “risk theory” we have to distinguish between risk and catastrophe. Risk is not catastrophe itself. It is rather the anticipation of a catastrophe. And this anticipation is a huge political force. If the concept is applied to Korean society, North Korea’s nuclear threat, the anticipation of an attack does have a severe impact not only on people’s daily lives in South Korea, East Asia, even South Asia and, of course, also on politics. 
 
Politics can show two reactions. First, politicians can dramatize the threat in order to take advantage of it for staging other political priorities.
 
Second, from a cosmopolitan perspective, politicians from different nations can use the common treat to form a sort of international community. This can be applied to the issue of the Korean Peninsula.
 
Today’s world is full of challenges that do not belong to a single state. Those ‘risks without passport’ can only be addressed by collective action. This is true too for the Korean Peninsula issue. It cannot be addressed directly, only with participation of the South and the North. Rather, it should be tackled through participation of much more nations in a cosmopolitan framework. Once we look at German unification history, Chancellor Willy Brandt utilized such political conceptualization. At the time, in order for German unification, he pursued to form a cosmopolitan frame where European countries as well as the U.S. and the Soviet Union joined. This cosmopolitical vision was necessary to build a bridge at the smallest level between East and West Germany.
 
President : After I was sworn in, I implemented the Sunshine policy that I have insisted on from a long time ago, and as a result, during the past 10 years, the inter-Korean relations significantly improved. Tension on the Korean Peninsula has been dramatically eased, and exchanges and collaborations between the two Koreas significantly grown. Furthermore, the past hostile sentiment of North Korean people toward Southern brethren turned to friendly one. Even cultural change is taking place. Nowadays, North Korean people are secretly enjoying South Korea’s popular songs, TV dramas and movie films.
 
However, with newly launched Lee Myung-Bak administration disregarded the past North Korea policy and adopted confrontational approach, triggering strong resistance from the North, which subsequently raised tension on the Korean Peninsula. 
 
What President Lee and I are basically different in our thinking is that President Lee believes that only confrontational policy of the Cold War will work in treating and taming bad behavior of communist country. Meanwhile, I have consistently insisted on the Sunshine policy from the day of opposition leader through my presidency. Like the Aesop fable which tells us that it was warm sunshine, not strong north wind that made a passerby take off his coat, the Sunshine policy is an argument that it is software, not hardware that changes communist nation. Putting it differently, we can succeed only when we lead communist regime to reform and openness.
 
Although the West had containment policy of the Cold War for several decades toward the Soviet Union, they couldn’t change it. However, with the Helsinki Treaty in place which led the Soviet Union to opening-up and reform, they could democratize not only the Soviet Union but Eastern European countries as well. The same is now applied in China. Even though the United States had armed conflict and the Cold War confrontation with China ever since the Korean War, it wasn’t successful in bringing about change in China. But after President Nixon’s visit to Beijing and his meeting with Mao Zedong, reform and opening-up took place in China leading to the rise of such figures as Deng Xiaoping. And enormous change followed which isn’t comparable with the change incurred by the Cultural Revolution.
In the case of Vietnam, the U.S. event waged a war against it, but now it established diplomatic ties and trade relations with Vietnam, developing the bilateral ties into mutually beneficial relations. The same can be applied to North Korea. Only if the U.S. normalizes its relations with North Korea, the North will come out to the international community. Then North Korea can become another China or Vietnam.  Chairman Kim Jong-il that I met in person was earnestly aspiring to normalize its relations with the U.S. Therefore, the U.S. should at least give a chance to the North.
 
My presidency ranged from 1998 to February 2003, and I spend the first half of it working with President Clinton, and the latter half with President Bush. President Clinton actively and publicly supported the Sunshine policy, an approach seeking problem settlement through peaceful means and dialogue. And he supported my visit to Pyongyang in 2000. After the visit, I helped the arrangement of high-ranking official meetings in between the U.S. and North Korea, and through the high-level official exchanges, the two nations were on the verge of normalizing diplomatic ties, but then President Clinton left office. 
 
The Bush administration launched in February 2001 adopted so called ABC (Anything But Clinton) policy and scrapped every progress made in its relations with North Korea by President Clinton and me. Claiming that the U.S. cannot reward bad behaviors, it went back to confrontational approach.  Situation got worse and worse. North Korea withdrew from the NPT Treaty, expelled IAEA inspectors, launched long-range missile which was under moratorium, and finally conducted nuclear testing on October 9, 2006. President Bush finally realized the hard-line policy wasn’t working, and he reached the February 13 agreement last year. He came back to the approach of direct dialogue, give-and-take negotiation, and action-for-action approach, and started to move toward the right direction. Though there will be ups and downs, North Korean nuclear issue will be eventually resolved.
 
Yet, President Lee Myung-bak announced a North Korea policy called ‘Denuclearization and Opening 3000’, which means South Korea will help the North  achieve per-capital income of $3,000 in 10 years, if North Korea gives up its nuclear ambition and opens up its door. This is the same argument made by President Bush over the past several years that the U.S. would help North Korea only after North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program. However, such policy just ended up being a failure, and President Bush came back to the approach of direct dialogue and give and take negotiation. Given such circumstances, President Lee’s argument sounds outdated.  
 
Yet, when he visited me during his presidential campaign, he seemed to have quite flexible way of thinking. Therefore, if he realizes this won’t work, he will take correctional actions. 
 
Dr. Beck : I hope so. Your vision is very evident and convincing.
 
Let us look at the past collapse of the Soviet Union and the change of Europe. When both East and West camps became threat to each other, both camps, paradoxically, tried to form a bridge. In other words, when both parties felt that they were threat to each other’s existence, both could overcome ideological differences, as Chancellor Willy Brandt did in the past.
 
If I may add one more story which can be unrealistic to Korea but experimental and enlightening, currently there are many ongoing discussions about climate change. If climate change is first and foremost a terrible threat for humanity, it is also a fantastic opportunity to change politics into a more transnational collective action. In order to address the serious threat of climate change, there should be a pooling of sovereignties to empower national governments, that is a paradigm shift in politics. In other words, politics at national level should federate with each other, so that they can seek solutions for global issues together. This can have an indication to East Asia and South Asia. Though they are all separate and different countries, they need to join their hands to tackle common threats. I think President Sunshine’s policy can be re-conceptualized and be applied this way.
 
President : Climate Change is a critical issue, but we can have hopes with regard to that issue, because the threat of Climate Change is common to everybody, whether you live in a rich or poor country, whether you live in the East or the West. In other words, since they understand they would be ruined all together unless they collaborate in the issue of Climate Change. Therefore, the issue will be addressed. 
 
The real tricky one is the gap between the rich and the poor. People in richer countries do not regard the poverty of poorer nations as threat to themselves, so they don’t care.  Also, they regard the sufferings people go through in less developed countries due to diseases like AIDS and Malaria as someone else’s problem. However, people in poor nations may have a grudge against those in richer nations thinking that their poverty and subsequent sufferings is because the people in richer countries exploited them. And this, I think, can develop as the root cause of a local war or terrorism.  Hence, the growing wealth gap is indeed a big issue for humanity. Such complaints arising from those in poorer neighbors are much bigger risks than military clashes or confrontations. 
 
Dr. Beck : I generally agree with President’s diagnosis that current situation derives from distorted distribution of wealth, but I am not certain what this means. The opinion that poor country’s issue can be addressed within its national context is increasingly losing its legitimacy. Each national state has to open up to the issue of global inequality.
 
Historically in the 19th Century Europe, Marx introduced the vision of internationalization of workers and argued that the issue of class should be dealt with at global level. At the time, such vision was a great shock to national states. Thus the issue of class conflict was nationalized, was handled within the national context. The answer of the national welfare state was successful. Now, however, national state can no longer address on its own such issue as global inequality.
 
If we go back to the issue of climate change again, what is surprising is that the international community supports the idea of common response to climate change, thereby enabling the rise of ecological or environmental capitalism. This will change basically every institution.
 
One thing I am still wondering about is whether this kind of new politics can be applied to Asian region as well, whether regional politics would accept common response approach when dealing with such issues as climate change, and whether China, South Korea, and North Korea can overcome differences and build a cooperative state system.
 
President : I believe environmental issue like climate change can be properly addressed, since people share common interest in that matter. For example, China’s yellow dust affects Korea and Japan. And if Chinese ocean is polluted, it will also have impact on Korea and Japan. In order to stop damage from China’s yellow dust, Koreans are already participating in project to plant trees in China. Likewise, collaboration between nations seems feasible when it comes to tackling environmental issue.
 
The problem is that South Korea and Japan are democratic nations while China is a communist one. This difference seems to underlie overall disharmony and confrontation between the countries. If the U.S., together with Japan, does not put too much military pressure on China, China will be able to focus on its internal affairs without fear of military action from the U.S. This may sound too optimistic, but as Chinese economy develops, middle class also emerges.
 
The population of Chinese middle class is estimated to reach 50 to 100 million.  They have money, power, and they will soon claim for political right as well.  During the British Industrial Revolution, bourgeois who rose as middle class demanded the right to vote, and the British noble wisely accepted their request, thereby enabling peaceful transition to democracy. Meanwhile, in France, the noble refused to do so, and this led to their collapse. Whenever middle class arise, they come to ask for their democratic rights, and if the existing ruling class responds peacefully to such request, it will lead to peaceful transition to democratic system.  However, if ruling class resists and adopts the use of force, transition to democracy will become very tough. Now population of Chinese middle class is on the rise along with its economic development. Depending on how Chinese authorities respond to the request of middle class, not only China’s future but that of East Asia and the world will be greatly affected. I am optimistic.
 
Among several reasons I’m positive is that the Chinese leadership acknowledged the reality and they fixed constitution of the Communist Party adopting so called ‘Three Represents’ theory. In the past, the party membership was allowed only to worker class, but the eligibility expanded to include intellectuals and entrepreneurs as well, who belong to middle class. The Chinese leadership seem adapted to the change of society. 
 
Furthermore, demonstrations take place in local area, about 300 every day, deriving from dissatisfaction of farmers and poor people. However, the government is not using force to quell those protests. While keeping their protests from developing into armed riot, demonstrators are expressing their discontent. And the authorities are also fixing what they can.
 
China stands at the crossroads. If the U.S. helps China focus on its internal affairs, China will be able to move toward democratization, even if the process will be gradual.  
 
Another ground for my optimism is the debate ongoing inside the Communist Party.  Neo-left wing including high-level officials argues that China’s corruption and irregularities, and the gap between the rich and the poor are due to capitalism.  Therefore, they should go back to the past command economy system. Meanwhile, neo-right wing, also including high-ranking officials, oppose such argument.  They claim that China’s corruption and the wealth gap is due to the lack of democracy. Therefore, they need to introduce democracy, laws and regulations which will ensure transparency. Then, such issues as rampant corruption and the gap between the haves and the have-nots will be addressed. Furthermore, they argue that China should eventually seek Sweden type of social democracy. What’s noteworthy is that President Hu Jintao is said to have agreed to the argument of neo-right wing.  Though it is not in practice yet, it’s significant that this kind of debate is taking place among senior officials of the ruling party.  
 
The fact that China modified constitution of the Communist Party so as to expand membership to three represents, that everyday about 300 demonstrations are taking place under the tacit approval of the government, and that there is ongoing debate between neo-right and neo-left wing of the leadership, and that top leadership of China agree on the idea of neo-right wing, these facts demonstrate China will be eventually democratized, if only outside world, in particular, the U.S. deals with China wisely. When did we imagine that the Soviet Union could fall down and be democratized? What’s important is that these changes are coming from within, not from outside. 
 
There is an old oriental proverb that says, “It’s like teaching Confucius Confucianism or teaching a fish how to swim.” Having shared all these views and opinions, I feel like I’ve just done the same trying to teach something in front of a world-renowned scholar.  
 
Dr. Beck : I am so much enthusiastic about your vision, precise analysis and convincing argument. I’ve met many politicians before, but I’ve never met anyone who had vision as clear as yours.
 
One thing still remains a question mark. About a half year ago, I visited Beijing for lectures and had discussions with diverse groups including politicians and intellectuals. Before the trip to Beijing, I also had the same vision as yours that China would eventually move toward democratization. However, on my way back home, I had doubts. If we look at China’s modernity, China seems to allow significant economic freedom, but it makes clear-cut limitation when it comes to participation in public or democratic affairs.
 
China is likely to go through long transitional period, during which middle class will benefit. Middle class will be able to make investment and recoup profits in private affairs, but they will not be able to do so when it comes to political affairs. I don’t think the case what we witnessed in Europe can be applied to China: The rise of middle class who are well educated and rich will lead to their claims for political participation and rights. China will open up its economy and allow freedom in private affairs, but it will oppress people in political field. Perhaps the middle class will accept this. One thing to note is that such situation will last only as long as two conditions are met: China will continue to make rapid growth without economic crisis and China will continue to maintain its nationalism.
 
President : No one can be sure of China’s democratization, but based on several reasons that I just described, I believe China will eventually move toward democratization. It just started moving in that direction and it will continue to do so unless outside world pose serious threat to China, which will hinder China from focusing on its internal affairs. Furthermore, there is philosophical ground as well behind such an optimistic view. In late 17th century Europe, a philosopher named John Locke introduced social contract theory. According to the theory, sovereignty rests with the people, and they entrust sovereign will to a ruler. Hence, if the ruler does not make good use of the entrusted power, the public have the right to take the power back. In a word, he argued for the doctrine of popular sovereignty. 
 
However, there was an oriental philosopher who introduced similar idea 2,000 years ahead of John Locke. Mencius claimed that emperor was the son of heaven. Heaven sent the son to earth to govern people on its behalf. However, if emperor does not rule justly, the public can rise up against the emperor and overthrow him. Historically, China had new dynasty approximately every 200 years, and those who rose to build a new dynasty took advantage of the Mencius’ theory. They claimed that they rose against tyrant on behalf of heaven, and therefore their revolution was legitimate. 
That argument of Mencius demonstrates that Asia also had traditions and heritages of democracy-oriented philosophies.
 
Dr. Beck : I am completely convinced, because I want to be convinced. (Laughs)
 
President : Thank you for listening and for your insightful remarks. 
 
Dr. Beck : Today’s talk with you was very enthusiastic and exciting. I hope we have politicians like you in Europe as well. Politicians with visions like yours.
 
President : Thank you for those very generous remarks.
 
Dr. Beck : I mean it.
 
President : How often do you visit this area, China, Japan and Korea, about twice a year?
 
Dr. Beck : Not that often. I visited China last year, and this time Korea. I hope I can visit this area more often. Nowadays, people in the West believe that the future lies in Asia.
 
President : You’re right. The presence of China and India will grow significantly, especially that of China. Given such circumstances, if China makes peaceful transition to a democratic nation, it will be a blessing to the world, but if China is trapped in Sinocentrism and imperialism, it will be a big disaster. At the moment, it is hard to conclude whether to be optimistic or pessimistic about China’s future, but once we have a look back at history, we can still have some hopes. The United States and the European nations need to help China move toward democratization, in other words, help China concentrate on internal affairs. I’ve shared this opinion with many American leaders when I visited the U.S. last September.