LMB’s NK Policy Begins to Take Shape
GNP Representative Chung Hyung Keun, known for taking a hard-line on inter-Korean issues, told the GNP’s Supreme Council to pay more attention to North-South relations while treating these relations with the same level of importance as other foreign relations. Chung noted that despite the new administration’s more conservative stance, North Korea’s official reaction has been muted. Said Rep. Chung:
“Pyongyang desperately wants economic assistance from Seoul to make its economy work, so it doesn’t use aggravating words against its counterparts here, although they might feel uncomfortable with the new government’s policy (via Korea Times).”
Chung was discussing North Korea’s official reaction, published via the pro-North Chosun Shinbo, to President Lee Myung Bak’s calls for greater international participation in North Korea’s denuclearization process. In a recent speech, Lee declared
“nationalism will not help inter-Korean relations move forward” as the North Korean nuclear programs are “an international issue.’ (via Korea Times)”
Lee’s choice of appointees, including Unification Minister-designate Kim Ha Joong, reflects this principle. Daily NK, through an editorial on Kim’s appointment, draws attention to the aptness of Kim’s appointment:
Kim faces some resistance from conservatives because of the roles he played during the Kim Dae Jung and Noh Moo Hyun administrations, but his career experience and expertise are matched by none.
Kim’s selection as minister is closely related to President Lee Myung Bak’s North Korea policy, which calls for strengthening relations with the U.S., Russia, Japan and China. In keeping with such a policy, Kim is well qualified to be minister of unification.
Kim is a career diplomat and the current ambassador to China. His appointment to a position dominated in the past by professors and North Korea experts is symbolic of Lee’s desire to “de-nationalize” North-South relations.
President Lee is already making good on his promise to take a more active approach to North Korean human rights issues. Issues that were long overlooked during the “sunshine policy era.” Park In Kook, deputy foreign minister for international organizations and global issues, outlined the new government’s position to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, said the Chosun Ilbo. Park told the council:
“The Government of the Republic of Korea, underscoring human rights as a universal value, calls upon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to take appropriate measures to address the international community’s concern that the human rights situation in the DPRK has not improved (via Korea.net).”
However, not everyone is so optimistic about the advent of “pragmatic” inter-Korean relations. In a forum sponsored by the unabashedly pro-sunshine policy Hankyoreh and the Korea National Strategy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, several participants expressed their doubts about Lee’s approach. Korea University professor Park Yeon Cheol believes
Lee’s administration says that it will pursue pragmatic policies, but it is actually pursuing foreign policy based on its values and morality
Other participants criticized the “action for action” principle, which calls for aid and other rewards to be given to Pyongyang only in excahange for tangible cooperation with the Six-Party Talks. Professor Park Gyeon Yeong of Catholic University worries:
The denuclearization process has made little progress under the action-for-action principle. Former President Kim Young-sam’s administration was unable to grasp the dynamics of North Korea-U.S. relations and shouldered an enormous burden. Such a situation could recur. President Lee’s idea that abandonment should come first is a suggestion which goes against the dynamics of international politics.
Though, it should be noted, he offers no counter-position.
On the issue of North Korean human rights, Park Sun-seong of Dongguk University worries that too much emphasis on human rights might be a bad thing:
If the nation makes the North’s human rights situation and the opening of its regime
into political issues, or makes them conditional, they could work as obstacles to South Korea’s diplomatic efforts. In South Korea, the human rights situation has improved, along with economic development, political democratization and the growth of the civil society. Outward enforcement can’t improve the North’s human rights situation. South Korea should come up with conditions that Pyongyang can accept. It should not establish a barrier that is too high.
On the future of inter-Korean relations in general, Lee Hee-ok of Sungkyunkwan University warns of the consequences of neglecting North Korea:
While it has a strong will, the new administration seems to be very one-sided in its understanding of the attitudes of others. Relations between South and North Korea are coming to a deadlock. If Pyongyang-Washington ties warm, as is likely, and Pyongyang-Beijing relations continue to be forged in the wake of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two nations, South Korea is likely to be cast aside in the region’s geopolitical landscape, a phenomenon called “Korea Passing.”
Finally, Kim Yeong Cheol has more words of warning for Lee:
North Korea would react if the failure of a specific policy arose. Depending on the choices made by the South Korean government, I can’t rule out the possibility that inter-Korean relations could return to a past in which “there were no inter-Korean relations.”