Lee’s Policy towards North Korea Will Succeed If Carried out As Planned

Lee Myung Bak government unveils its policy towards North Korea bit by bit.

The incoming government’s North Korean policy has been so far discussed in general with emphasis put on “Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness,” “South Korea-U.S. alliance,” “Reexamination of inter-Korean cooperation,” and “the principle of addressing North Korean Human Rights issue as a violation of universal human rights.”

The priority areas for the Presidential Transition team lies in, first, the restoration of economy in various sectors including real estate and tax, second the field of education and lastly security and foreign policy matters, which focuses on strengthening South Korea-US alliance in particular.

President-elect Lee Myung Bak on February 1 presented his four principles for future inter-Korean cooperation and set the direction of the cooperation, which in fact lies at the heart of interest in both Koreas and the entire North East Asia sub-region.

That day, the President-elect invited journalists from Donga Ilbo, Ashahi Shimbun, and Wallstreet Journal to his office in Jongro-gu, Seoul for a press conference and introduced his four principles: Progress on North Korean nuclear issue, economic feasibility, financial capacity and value, and national consensus.

The President-elect said, “Drawing from these principles, we will figure out what needs to be done now and later and what cannot be done among many current inter-Korean economic cooperation activities.” He said, “We will continue to proceed with tours to Mount Geumgang and the development of Kaesong Industrial Complex.”

For the next five years, these four principles will guide Lee Myung Bak’s government’s policy towards North Korea.

More than anything, President-elect Lee stressed that economic cooperation with North Korea should proceed in parallel with the progress on North Korean nuclear issue. To put it another way, North Korea should not expect from South Korea economic support unless it actively seeks to settle the nuclear crisis. Of course, the humanitarian assistance will continue unconditionally. However, this matter too can be proceeded side by side with efforts to improve basic human rights concerns regarding POWs, separate families and abductees. As can be seen in the case of pre-unified Germay, West Germany provided economic support to East Germany, and at the same time, persistently raised the issue of human rights violations in East Germany.

President-elect Lee also said that his government would take into consideration economic feasibility, value, and South Korea’s financial capacity when pursing inter-Korean economic cooperation. This means, his government would no longer continue the current unconditional economic support for North Korea but assess the real worth of the cooperation. As to the future activities for economic cooperation, Lee said he would set out priorities and sort out the unnecessary. For instance, he might check the feasibility of the construction of ship-building cooperative complexes in Anbyun and Nampo and the establishment of Haeju economic zone as set forth in the October 4 inter-Korean Summit Joint Declaration.

The proposed principles reflect President-elect’s pragmatism, which weighs actual outcomes of inter-Korean cooperation for both Koreas against unsubstantiated promises often vaguely expressed as “the interest of the Korean People” or “Principles of common interest, co-prosperous and mutual aid.” Here, Lee stresses that South Korea too needs to enjoy fruits of inter-Korean economic cooperation and North Korea’s benefits from economic cooperation should be used to actually help North Korean people not to sustain the Kim Jong Il regime.

As to having another inter-Korean summit, the President-elect said, “There won’t be any meeting merely for the sake of political purposes or formality.” He said, “However, if the summit talks can actually help settle North Korean nuclear crisis and open the country’s door, I will meet Kim Jong Il not just once but several times.”

His words illustrate that he would not put on a political show but remain pragmatic about his policy towards North Korea, and also imply that he would not use his North Korean policy to gain domestic political leverage. As long as the President-elect maintains his current thoughts and principles for the next five years, his government could overcome the past ten years of policy failure in North Korea.

Ever since he won the presidential election, Lee has been sparing words about Kim Jong Il and his regime. He no longer uses words such as “dictator” or “man who staved his people to death” when referring to Kim Jong Il. His discreet behavior should not simply suggest that the President-elect has been careful not to offend North Korea unnecessarily. Rather, his behavior should be understood as a strategic move. Interestingly, North Korean media too have not made any comment on the President-elect.

The President-elect said, “People used to think that maintaining good relations with North Korea is the same as jeopardizing relations with US. However, I believe that if relations with the US and Japan improve, inter-Korean relations will advance as well. This is a fundamental change in thinking, and I would like to tell North Korea about this.”

In addition, the President-elect revealed that he has been thinking of getting help from EU countries to solve North Korean nuclear problem. He said, “North Korea has built trust with some European countries through exchanges with the countries’ socialist political parties. We can have these European countries exert some influence over North Korea. While maintaining the current six party talks framework, we can have those European countries involve in the denuclearization efforts, and that will bring synergy into the matter. “

Regarding the past ten years under the Kim Dae Jung and Roo Mu Hyun governments, the President-elect said, “They were not free from old ideological conflicts,” adding, “Now is the time to bring pragmatism into the policy.”

His words indicate that when pursing policy regarding North Korea and inter-Korean relations, he will keep pace with basic global trends which stress human rights, openness, denuclearization and globalization which goes beyond the boundaries of nationalism.

With respect to North Korean human rights problems, the President-elect reconfirmed that he would look at the problems as violations of fundamental human rights and try to settle issues regarding POWs and separate families.

President-elect Lee took much time of the conference discussing foreign policies especially one towards North Korea. That is because media representatives from three countries participated in the conference and journalists from Wall Street and Asahi Shimbun asked mainly about the incoming government’s policy towards the US, Japan and North Korea .

Details on President-elect Lee’s philosophy of governance and overall policy direction are to be revealed at the 17th presidential inauguration scheduled on February 25.

Judging from his words at the conference, the President-elect has correctly set the overall direction of his foreign policies including one towards North Korea. He should maintain this direction and enforce his North Korean policy as planned for next five years.

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