Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Koreans, the Arabs and Striking Similarities | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Koreans, like most of the Arabs, believe they are in fact one nation, sharing the same characteristics; language and history. The Koreans were indeed one nation not so long ago, and have only been divided into two separate states for 70 years. North Korea fell under the hegemony of the Soviet Union, whilst South Korea became an ally of the United States. The Koreans resemble the Arabs in terms of their ideological composition: There are extremist Koreans, who seek to stockpile large arsenals of weapons, and threaten the destruction of the world, whilst there are also moderate Koreans, who seek to generate money by promoting tourism and investment.

Despite benefiting from greater volumes of natural resources than its southern neighbour, ranging from gold to coal, North Korea has become an underdeveloped country, living off foreign aid. This is due to its extreme political leadership being obsessed with the military nuclear project. In contrast, South Korea, a state with limited resources and a large population of around 44 million, is considered a global industrial miracle, having achieved remarkable successes. Thus South Korea has transformed itself into a wealthy nation.

In North Korea, the more powerful military state of the two, yet less economically and technically developed, the situation has recently taken a turn for the worse. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have died of hunger over the past few years, due to the government policies which have caused major agricultural failures. Today, North Korea boasts about its nuclear weapons, preoccupies its citizens with endless military parades, adorns its generals with medals, and gathers them in pictures with the ruler of the country, whom they are obliged to call “The Dear Leader”.

Indeed, the Korean case is an accurate reflection of the situation in our region. Drawing an analogy between the Korean conflict, and the inter-Arab conflict, would not be an act of exaggeration, as long as we exclude certain aspects. Of course the Koreans are far more successful. Not a single Arab country can equal South Korea in its impressive scientific and industrial development. Similarly, no Arab state is capable of manufacturing the advanced weapons that North Korea can produce.

When tensions escalated between North and South Korea yesterday, the whole world took notice, fearing the consequences of a war between the two countries. South Korea is globally significant in terms of its industry, whilst North Korea is a global nuclear threat. The origin of the dispute, as is the case with inter-Arab differences, could have been settled with a single leadership decision, namely that the past should be forgotten, and that co-existence should serve as a basis for the future.

However, because North Korea is the villain in this situation, due to its mass armaments, aggressive media, and continuous threats, the authorities in South Korea have been living in a state of constant alert for decades, simply because the consequences of war would be enormous. The distance between South Korea’s capital and North Korea’s borders is so short that it would take less than half an hour for invading troops to reach Seoul.

The question that springs to mind whenever someone visits the Korean peninsula is this: Why doesn’t the North imitate its southern neighbour, and adopt a policy of internal development? The answer lies in the mentality of North Korea’s leadership, which still lives in a world of past conflicts. In previous years, North Korea has served as a proxy for the Soviet Union and China respectively. But when the Soviets and the Chinese finally changed their outlook, opened up to the world, and abandoned their ideology, the North Koreans remained loyal to the dogmatic belief that the world should change, rather than North Korea itself. In reality, North Korea remained loyal to itself because it feared the consequences of change. Kim Jong-Il feared that he would be forced to abandon his ideology, and ultimately fall from power, like [Nicolae] Ceausescu of Romania, and [Erich] Honecker of East Germany.