North Korea Monitor

LMB’s NK Policy Not a “Retrogression”

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The Hankyoreh, as expected, has slammed what it calls the “retrogression on North Korea policy” by the Lee Myung Bak administration. The pro-sunshine policy rag laments that

There has been a major loss of continuity and originality in policy towards North Korea, and the ministry’s report on its activities is a list of vague themes that are out of touch with reality. The tone of policy has been tailored to fit President Lee Myung-bak’s ideology, and it is in no small way possible it will lead to renewed conflict between the two Koreas.

The Hankyoreh begins its rant by deploying the classic pro-North false dilemma: “either we make nice with the ‘Dear Leader’ or we go to war!” Too bad the issue isn’t so cut-and-dry. The “relationship” between North and South over the past decade has been a relationship inasmuch as Neville Chamberlain’s relationship with Hitler was a “relationship.” Of course, the South should not maintain a belligerent policy towards the North, but I don’t think asking for reciprocity is too much. There are various “hues” of relationship possible between North and South that are neither appeasement nor war.

Despite the Hankyoreh’s idealistic objections based on the principle of “uri-minjok-ggiri-above-all-else,” a pragmatic approach is required. The South has every right to ask itself:  “what benefits have we gotten out of this relationship lately?” The answer, of course, is nothing tangible–besides feel-good nationalistic sentiments.

The editorial continues:

The new North Korea policy’s emphasis is negating the accomplishments of Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. A brief example would be how there is no single mention of the October 4 Summit Declaration and the June 15 Joint Statement, which should be a most basic part of inter-Korean relations. The summit declaration talks about policy goals like a “West Sea Peace Cooperation Zone,” a “Haeju Special Zone,” a shipbuilding yard, a two-stage development plan for Gaeseong Industrial Complex, and repairs on roads and railways, but all of these are missing from the ministry’s report, and now there’s no knowing when there might be prime ministers’ talks or a meeting of the economic cooperation committee. After listening to the ministry’s presentation of its report, President Lee Myung-bak instead spoke with special emphasis about the importance of the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement signed during the Roh Tae-woo presidency in 1991. In other words, he wants to negate the continuity in North Korea policy and turn back the clock on relations by about a decade.

Why should the Unification Ministry’s report mention those inter-Korean projects? What good did they bring to North-South relations? Did they build trust? Goodwill? No! Kim Jong Il couldn’t even be bothered to make the slightest concession to the South. After pouring all that no-strings-attached aid that bolstered Kim’s grip on power, he wouldn’t even allow the South Korean anthem to played prior to the recent World Cup Qualifier. If anything, all that pandering only reinforced Kim’s notion that his DPRK is the only legitimate Korea.  

Finally, the Hankyoreh concludes:

So Lee’s administration is essentially taking issues that need a far more mature level of relations with Pyongyang to even talk about seriously, then skipping everything that would build up to that, and talking only about the final destination. One can see how this is an unrealistic attitude for not taking one’s negotiating counterpart into consideration, given how almost none of the North Korea policy goals Seoul announced before the nineties ever saw fruition.

I agree with the notion that it will take time and confidence building measures to reach the “final destination,” but what happened in the past decade could hardly be described as contributing to a productive, healthy relationship.  On the contrary, through appeasement, North Korean policy makers quickly learned that they need not compromise to maintain their survival in the face of their failed domestic policies; that the South was waiting–on bended knee–to give aid and endorsement with out anything in return. It’s ironic that the Hankyoreh bashes Lee for “not taking one’s negotiating counterpart into consideration.” I think its Kim Jong Il who deserves that criticism. 

Written by nkmonitor

March 28, 2008 at 2:26 am

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