As the deadline for the declaration of North Korea’s nuclear facilities expired, the incoming Lee Myung Bak administration faces a dilemma regarding its North Korea policy.
In its 2008 New Year’s address released in the form of a combined editorial, North Korea remained silent on the Six-Party Talks and stressed “uriminzokkiri (our nation),” the theoretical expression of their policy towards South Korea. The editorial also called for the fulfillment of the October 4 Declaration, the result of the second Inter-Korean Summit.
First, it seems as if the North is demanding the expansion of South-North economic cooperation while being cognizant of potential policy changes of the Lee Myung Bak administration. Noting that there have been no signs of advancement regarding the nuclear issue, the new administration remains cautious.
Regarding North Korea’s common editorial, Representative Chung Hyung Keun of the Grand National Party, said on the 2nd that this is "North Korean utilitarianism" and speculated that their "attitude is to observe the transition to the new administration's policy toward North Korea in terms of economic cooperation and the maintenance of basic communication." However, Rep. Chung's analysis is criticized as being naive and at odds with reality.
In the common editorial, the North also did not clearly mention giving up its nuclear weapons, a point that had been discussed with the Roh Moo Hyun administration and is required for the expansion of economic cooperation and the advancement of North-South relations. However, the next administration will focus on denuclearization as the primary impetus to expand economic cooperation. Before the denuclearization process is resolved, the next administration is bound to face a dilemma between expanding North-South relations and resolving the nuclear issue.
Thus, it is questionable to view the North’s change to a utilitarian stance as positive, especially as they ask for aid without the willingness to give up their nuclear program. As the delays continue, conflicts with U.S. are bound to gradually increase.
Korea University Professor Nam Sung Wook, an advisor to the presidential transition team, appeared on SBS Radio and stated, "The Lee Myung Bak administration will do what it can based on the North’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons and it will not do what it cannot."
Rep. Park Jin of the transitional team stated on December 31st that "Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness," the President-elect’s policy toward North Korea, is based on denuclearization. It will stick to the principle that the abandonment of nuclear weapons is the most important factor in determining policy toward the North.
As the declaration of denuclearization has been delayed, there is a possibility that the new government's policy towards the North will take a wait-and-see approach, similar to North Korea's policy towards the South.
Professor Kim Sung Han of Korea University's Graduate School for International Studies said, “In the short term, the stagnation of North-South relations is inevitable because of the North's recent attitude".
President-elect Lee Myung Bak stated on the 1st in an interview with KBS and SBS about the North delaying its declarations that, "Even if it is delayed a bit, wouldn't a clear declaration be more important? Rather than releasing the declaration by December 31st (the agreed upon date) with incomplete contents, releasing a declaration with accurate contents will create more trust and will be the first step towards a true denuclearization process.”
If North Korean authorities carry out their nuclear disablement and the declaration of their nuclear programs, then North-South relations will also improve. However, if these promises are not kept, then the Lee Myung Bak government will start its term attempting to address issues of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, North-South relations, and the U.S.-South Korea alliance. This will be no simple task.