We also wanted to convey through the name Sonshi that Sun Tzu's Art of War transcends political boundaries as well as it transcends time. Although not Chinese, leaders of feudal Japan, which included Takeda Shingen and Minamoto Yoshitsune, were among the most ardent students of Sun Tzu's Art of War. So, too, would you want to make Sun Tzu's Art of War your book of choice even though you might not be Chinese. In short, Sun Tzu's Art of War originated in ancient China but it now belongs to the modern world.
Japan isn't the only one steeped in Sun Tzu's lessons. Korea is another nation that made Sun Tzu's Art of War their own. Surprisingly, Korea is one of the early sources of Japan's introduction to Sun Tzu. According to Book 17 of the Nihongi (Annals of Japan), it tells how a Chinese scholar of the Five Classics visited Japan from Korea in 516 AD. Sir George Bailey Sansom, a renowned historian of early Japan, wrote that several Japanese embassies visited a Chinese viceroy in Korea circa 242 AD. Sir Sansom noted that the Korean kingdom of Baekje (18 BC - 660 AD) was completely sinicized.
As you may have read in the news, on April 27, 2018, in the Inter-Korean Summit in Panmunjom, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, met face-to-face for the very first time with the leader of South Korea, Moon Jae-in. There were many smiles, hugs, and expressions of friendship and peace. In these outward displays of affection, it is not surprising there are skeptics in the US, even in South Korea by Moon's critics.
These skeptics say this has happened all before in the 1990s and 2000s. They claim it is all a trick and a fake charm offensive from North Korea. To this assertion, I respectfully disagree. I believe the summit was groundbreaking. What are the differences between this meeting and prior meetings? Below are six significant differences:
(1) Unlike the previous meetings where they were held in North Korea, April 27, 2018, was the first time a North Korean leader set foot onto South Korea since 1953, which was 65 years ago.
(2) In terms of backdrop, unlike past meetings, there is much more cooperation between and direct involvement from both China and the United States.
(3) Kim Jong Un is a different leader from a different generation. Unlike his father Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong Un is an extrovert and relatively young, about 35 years old. People watching him talk noticed he spoke not with a northerner's dialect but someone who would be living in Seoul, South Korea. Kim also called South Korea by its official name and North Korea by its South Korean name, something that his predecessors never did.
(4) In the formal Declaration of the summit, which both leaders signed and agreed to, there is for the very first time this key statement: "South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula [emphasis Sonshi]." In the past, this idea wasn't even an item of discussion, much less a condition.
(5) To #4's point, skeptics pointed out that Kim Jong Un didn't reiterate "denuclearization" during his speech. They are technically correct. However, since they put so much importance in Kim's speech, let's consider what Kim did say in that speech:
- Kim said in his speech he wishes all Koreans to be able to travel freely between north and south.
- He also mentioned about not making the same mistakes of the past, and that we must take responsibility for our own history. He speaks of facing the problem and having mutual trust in order to achieve that.
- He further mentions there will be hard work and difficulties during reconciliation but there is no success without pain.
I highly suggest you watch Kim's five-minute speech (starting at the 9:00 mark) I posted above to see if you agree with me regarding his speech.
As if to respond to the critics, the Washington Post reported, "The North’s Korean Central Television brought out its most authoritative anchor, Ri Chun Hee, to read the news of the agreement, complete with a half-hour of footage from the summit. She even uttered the words 'complete denuclearization.'"
(6) One cannot underestimate the influence of two of the closest and most trusted individuals in Kim Jong Un's life: his younger sister Kim Yo-jong and his wife Ri Sol-ju. Both were there at the summit. This might seem a minor point but I believe it is a major one.
In addition to the six differences I outlined above, there were several nuanced exchanges that give indications of sincerity, all unscripted conversations. Let's start with their discussion on peace:
Kim: “I look forward to making the most of this opportunity so that we have the chance to heal the wounds between the North and the South. The demarcation line, which is in fact not high, may disappear with many people stepping on it and passing over it ... I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation as well as to work shoulder to shoulder with you to tackle the obstacles between us. I came with the confidence that a brighter future awaits us.”
Moon: “It is the two of us who deal with the matters on the Korean Peninsula firsthand, but we should also work in concert with the world. We should take the initiative in handling our matters so that surrounding countries can follow us.”
Kim: "I heard you had your early-morning sleep disturbed many times because you had to attend the N.S.C. meetings because of us. Getting up early in the morning must have become a habit for you. I will make sure that your morning sleep won’t be disturbed.”
Moon: “Now I can sleep in peace."
Moon: “Now you are here in the South, and I wonder when I can cross over to the North."
Kim: “Why don’t you now?”
[Then Kim took Moon's hand and they both crossed over into North Korea together. People applauded and were delighted at the sight.]
In the summit, overall Kim Jong Un wasn't only focused on his desire to engage with South Korea in the short term, but also focused on the path forward in the long term, which he stated would be difficult based on the failures of past meetings. He admitted that North Korea's roads aren't as good as South Korea's. He seems to put himself inside the problems that he expresses he wants to solve, not outside of them. There was more of a sense of realism as much as there was optimism. To me, these are all encouraging signs of someone who is sincere.
Of course there is nothing wrong with being mentally skeptical as long as our actions are wise. However, on NPR, a public radio station, I heard a professor suggested we should continue economic sanctions on North Korea despite these extraordinary new developments. His argument was, as I mentioned, he has seen such behaviors all before in the 2000s. He said it would be reckless to lift those sanctions.
I emphatically disagree. We have not seen these behaviors before, as I carefully outlined in the six key differences above. What is reckless is being so cynical that we don't anything different in response. The solution of further sanctions is feeble and unimaginative. What a poor strategy! It is no wonder we've been this way and are mired in this problem for over 60 years.
Our goal isn't implementing sanctions but getting to peace. By responding to a bold action with a weak response will be ineffective because that doesn't demonstrate fair play or mutual trust. This is analogous to a person demanding heat before he puts logs into his fireplace; we want commitment but not willing to commit ourselves. By not reciprocating on an offering of a renewed friendship and an olive branch from North Korea, we close shut the possibility of a breakthrough in this unprecedented event.
If we are going to go through the peace process, then we have to do it right. Doing it right means doing so in good faith until new evidence tells us otherwise. If we are not going through the peace process, then by all means continue to be cynical and not engage in these types of summits critics believe are fruitless. Do or do not, but we cannot have it both ways. Distrust destroys mutual trust. We can always re-install economic sanctions if our sincere efforts fail, but we can't always gain mutual trust back when we implement stale, humdrum strategies.
I would even argue that cynicism is part of the reason why we continue to fight among ourselves in the world throughout history, all in the futile attempt to protect our pride and ego, and to not look foolish and naive in front of others. When we continue on the same old path -- instead of changing our minds to take advantage of new changes -- we produce the same old results. We must break bad habits. As I wrote in our Art of War book:
“When two sides who consider each other enemies converge in armed struggle, for the moment they are no longer enemies. They are fellow human beings who face the same two choices that their ancestors did for centuries before them: to destroy each other or to prosper together.”
Expect more from ourselves and expect more from our adversaries. Instill what is good in us and call out the good in others and we cannot help but produce good results over time. I believe this ideal was in full display in Panmunjom. It was indeed a historic day for the Korean people.
Now some of you might be thinking, "But you are a student of Sun Tzu -- don't you think North Korea is deceiving us?" That is a possibility but that possibility takes nothing away from our invincibility. We don't need to be mean to be strong. We can be kind and still maintain our strength. The only thing we risk is making an honest mistake, but the potential gain we'll miss if we don't go through this peace process with North Korea might actually be a more monumental mistake given the remarkable new circumstances and opportunities in front of us. It is worth the risk.
Believe it or not, I am naturally skeptical. Three weeks ago on April 7, 2018, I was skeptical about Sun Tzu being treated right in an upcoming The Simpson's episode. Come to find out, after the show aired, it was clear Sun Tzu wasn't treated well. Sun Tzu was used as an ill-researched side story to simplistically support the writers' poor argument in their controversy on racism. For example, in the episode, the bookstore owner said Sun Tzu's Art of War is 3000 years old. A simple google search that would take a few seconds could have informed the writers that it was 2500 years old. They neither took the time nor the effort to be accurate in their writing because Sun Tzu wasn't important to them.
So I was correct to be skeptical as I am with North Korea now, which is why I am convinced that the Inter-Korean Summit in Panmunjom is real progress in the right direction. I only wish that all the leaders involved will continue successfully in that progress to their eventual goals. The pay off would be immeasurable if successful.
In order to gain this big pay off, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has essentially staked his entire political career on this summit. He wasn't blind to what has happened in the past. But he is more focused on today and the future, and understanding as I have that there are significant differences. Considering that Moon entered the presidency last year after protests against the corruption of the prior administration, any potential mistake trying to do the right thing would pale in comparison to the alleged unethical actions of Moon's predecessor, and certainly in comparison to the potential peace and prosperity for all Koreans in the long run. To him, it is worth the risk.
Similar to Korea being an unlikely source of Sun Tzu's Art of War to Japan, Korea can also be an unlikely source of peace to the world itself.
UPDATE 4/29/18 8:44am - The New York Times this morning reported in the summit Kim Jong Un spoke of learning from past mistakes and an impromptu response to unify the two nations' time:
In another conciliatory gesture toward South Korea, Mr. Kim made his own pledge of nonaggression toward the South.
“I am determined not to repeat the painful history of the Korean War. As the same nation living on the same land, we should never shed blood again,” he told Mr. Moon, according to Mr. Yoon. “I will give you my word that there will never be a use of force.”
Mr. Kim even vowed to readjust his country’s clock to match the time zone in South Korea.
In 2015, North Korea created its own time zone — “Pyongyang time” — and set its clocks 30 minutes behind those of South Korea, Japan and other neighbors. That has since created confusion among officials from both Koreas when they tried to schedule their meetings, such as the summit meeting on Friday.
“When I was sitting in the waiting room, I saw two clocks on the wall, one of the Seoul time and the other of the Pyongyang time, and I felt bad about it,” Mr. Kim was quoted as telling Mr. Moon. “Why don’t we reunify our clocks first?”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will shut down his nuclear test site in May and invite experts and journalists from South Korea and the United States into the country to ensure transparency around its closure, South Korea's presidential office said Sunday.