a hundred miles north of Bangalore, India, in the village of Thimmamma
Marrimanu grows an eponymous banyan tree. There are all kinds of records
for trees: the tallest, the stoutest, the oldest, and so on, but the
record for the largest canopy, at an astounding five acres, is held by
this banyan. And it also holds the key to the Korean enigma.
Relations with North Korea could not be worse:
Every so often it fires off a test missile or more, the latest an ICBM, and while President Donald Trump is delivering vague threats at the moment, he could eventually erupt. The resulting Far East chaos could be catastrophic.
It also recently released University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who was comatose and substantially brain-dead, and who has now expired. He had the misfortune to become tangled up in an incident while visiting there.
The options remain the same: Continue the status quo relying on China to restrain its ally; go to war; start new talks directed at some sort of peaceful accommodation. China is clearly either unable or unwilling to lean on its ally, and consequently the first option means continuing the unstable present. War means terrible casualties for obvious reasons including Seoul being within artillery range. Logic then dictates the the third choice despite Mr. Trump's usual braggadocio.
It so happens the new South Korean leader President Moon Jae-in also favors political diplomacy. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, the late President Roh Moo-hyun, he advocates the 'sunshine policy' of openness and closer ties with the North, initiated originally by Roh's predecessor President Kim Dae-jung -- who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for improving relations with the North.
The North is a militarized economy, the South a successful commercial one. Beginning in 1980, South Korea has surged in research. No longer an imitator of mature products, it is now (latest data 2015) among the top three countries granted U.S. patents, behind only the U.S. and Japan, and far surpassing Italy (17,924 vs. 2,645) for example . Its GDP is almost on a par with Canada and ahead of Russia; in 2016 its relatively new Hyundai (4.38% share) and sister Kia (3.69%) branded cars held over four times the market share of long-established Volkswagen (1.84%); and its Samsung cell phones, along with Apple, dominate the market. In comparison, North Korea is a commercial pygmy.
Still the inexorable consequences of weaving an economic tapestry hold out hope. Is there then an answer to the Korean enigma?
In India, the banyan tree is revered and, dating from 1433, Thimmamma Marrimanu especially so. Shielded from the hot sun under its forest-like canopy is a temple. Monkeys, also revered in local mythology, roam freely enjoying the figs -- the banyan is a fig tree.
fig seeds settle in the branches of adjacent trees. A seed sprouts
sending down a tendril to the earth below. When it reaches the soil it
roots. Dozens of these roots and coiling leaves eventually entangle the
host and the tree's canopy enlarges. Economic
tendrils into North Korea can take many forms and in a similar manner intertwine with the host.
The South has already had the Kaesong Industrial Park six miles across the border in the North. Up to 124 S outh Korean companies ran factories and businesses there making shoes and clothes primarily. Although diminished by the time it was shut down in 2016, it still employed 55,000 North Koreans. T he China model is another example . Training North Korean workers and setting up assembly and eventual manufacture of higher end products will profit both North and South economically; the North in growing a commercial economy and the South in increased profits and more competitive products due to cheaper labor and other costs.
In due course the vast economic canopy will ensure mutual prosperity, and prosperity is addictive. I nevitably i t opens the doors to reunification. The sad history of a divided Korea, prey to global forces and fractures beyond anyone's control will have come to an end.
This article is adapted from an earlier version that appeared in Antiwar.com