Park Geun Hye, the former chair of the ruling Saenuri Party Emergency Policy Committee, declared her presidential bid on the 10th. Naturally, she addressed the issue of North Korea, reasserting that her key goal is to stabilize relations with Pyongyang through a “Korean Peninsula trust process.”
Most experts see Park’s current position as a continuation of the ‘Trustpolitik’ hypothesis that she outlined in an article published in ‘Foreign Affairs’ magazine last year (see below). ‘Trustpolitik’ asserts that mutual trust is the first priority in building relations with North Korea, but that North Korea must also be held to account for its actions.
However, it has been pointed out that Park’s policy proposition does not convincingly address the nature of North Korea.
It is deemed especially questionable in light of how relations with North Korea worsened during the Lee Myung Bak administration after the Cheonan sinking and Yeonpyeong Island shelling. Her assessment is that a “tough line” should be used in response to this kind of bad behavior, yet she fails to explicitly define her vision of South Korea’s “robust and credible deterrent posture,” nor say how exchanges and cooperation can be continued when responding to such a provocation in a meaningful way.
Simply, she states, “Trust can be built on incremental gains, such as joint projects for enhanced economic cooperation, humanitarian assistance from the South to the North and new trade and investment opportunities.”
Experts largely agree that it will be difficult to build the sort of mutual trust that Park proposes until there are fundamental changes in North Korea’s regime. Some even suggest that she does not fully understand North Korea’s unique system at all.
At the time of its release, Prof. Christoph Bluth of the University of Leeds characterized the problem well when he stated that while ‘Trustpolitik’ “taps into a new trend of thought in international relations scholarship on trust-building and constitutes an analysis of extraordinary depth, scope and imagination,” it also “needs to be acknowledged that this proposal embodies a fundamental misconception about the nature of the North Korean regime.”
“Trust can only be built if there is some commonality of norms and values,” Bluth asserted. “North Korean leaders only respect power, and have absolutely no respect for norms or values.”
As a result, he went on, “Whatever the merits of this concept, history teaches us that it simply will not work in the case of North Korea.”
One anonymous researcher from a South Korean institute told Daily NK that nothing has changed Bluth made his comments, explaining, “Next year, North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions, human rights violations and internal problems will become much larger issues on the diplomatic stage, which will make it harder to change policy towards North Korea”
He added, “As long as North Korea’s dictatorship is maintained, it will realistically be difficult to create inter-Korean ‘trustpolitik.’”
Another expert suggested that Park would have perhaps had a more valid position had she elaborated on the details of the changes she envisioned, asserting, “It would have been better if Park mentioned specific philosophical visions to bring about North Korean reform and opening.
Published in the September-October 2011 edition of Foreign Affairs, the core of Park Geun Hye’s North Korea ‘Trustpolitik’ requires South Korea to take a hard-line on North Korea’s nuclear issues whilst also promoting inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation.
Under the policy, North Korea must be held to its agreements with both South Korea and the international community, and there must be established consequences for any aggressive behavior. However, there is also cooperation and dialogue initiatives.
To accomplish this, Park argues that South Korea needs to be open to negotiation at times, but also adopt a “deterrent posture” towards nuclear and military threats. When the North behaves peacefully, then there will be opportunities for increased economic cooperation and investment from the South.
In the Foreign Affairs piece, Park said that a lack of trust was what was “undermining attempts at genuine reconciliation,” recommending that “in order to transform the Korean Peninsula from a zone of conflict into a zone of trust, South Korea should adopt a policy of ‘trustpolitik,’ establishing mutually binding expectations based on global norms.”
“’Trustpolitik’ does not mean unconditional or one-sided trust without verification,” she went on. “Nor does it mean forgetting North Korea’s numerous transgressions or rewarding the country with new incentives.”
She calls upon Asian countries to slow the arms build-up, reduce military tensions, and strengthen multilateral organizations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. Additionally, she advocates for improving U.S.-China and U.S.-South Korea relations, which she believes will have a stabilizing effect on the East Asian region as a whole.
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