[OUTLOOK]'Reciprocity' in debate on NorthThis year's main presidential candidates, Lee Hoi-chang and Roh Moo-hyun, come from two entirely different backgrounds and have vastly different perspectives on the world, probably making the voter's choice easier. With election day fast approaching, however, the candidates are aiming their campaigns at the mass of voters in the political center. There are more similarities than differences in the candidates' campaigns.
The promises that differ the most, however, are those regarding security and unification. Their solutions to North Korea's nuclear program and the future of economic cooperation with Pyeongyang are different, as are their views on relations with the United States.
North Korea's confession that it is conducting a nuclear weapons program threw a curve ball at the Kim Dae-jung administration that had been so intent on improving relations with the North. That is one of the trickiest issues the candidates will have to deal with, and is one that the next president will have to wrestle with immediately when he takes office.
Inter-Korean relations are inseparable from foreign relations for Seoul. North Korea says adamantly that it will snub the South and deal directly only with the United States, the South's ally for half a century. The necessity of U.S. troops for an effective defense against any military threat from North Korea is a reality that we cannot afford to ignore.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyeongyang in September, the first meeting between a Japanese and North Korean head of state, resulted in the promise to renormalize relations between the two countries. Japan will also continue to be interested in affairs on the Korean Peninsula.
China and Russia, traditional allies of North Korea, do not want a nuclear-armed North Korea, but nevertheless are not pleased with the pressure diplomacy that the United States is using on North Korea. The recent summit meeting between China and Russia in Beijing showed their common position that North Korea should abandon its nuclear program but that normalization of relations with the United States should come at the same time.
Concerning the North Korean nuclear issue, Mr. Lee's view is not that different from that of the U.S. government or Japan's. He calls for North Korea to give up its nuclear program and wants to link economic cooperation to the nuclear issue. Reacting to a public demand for the release of kidnapped South Koreans in North Korea, triggered by Japan's pressure on the North to account for kidnapped Japanese, Mr. Lee wants the government to confront Pyeongyang with the matter. Mr. Roh, on the other hand, says North Korea's nuclear issue and inter-Korean economic cooperation should be handled simultaneously. He also says inspections of suspected nuclear facilities in North Korea, something that the United States says is vital for better ties, would only provoke the North Koreans.
Opinions about the United States also differ greatly. Mr. Lee wants to reinforce the existing cooperation on security issues between Seoul and Washington. This is the same as past governments' positions. Mr. Roh also acknowledges the importance of the alliance, but calls for an "independent" military diplomacy and seems to prefer a multilateral approach to a collective security plan -- in other words, no more getting pushed around by the United States.
Mr. Lee is calling for "strategic reciprocity," maintaining that support here for aiding North Korea is only possible if there is a favorable reaction from Pyeongyang to our appeals. Mr. Lee believes unconditional aid to North Korea without getting anything in return, which is what he feels President Kim Dae-jung's North Korea policies brought, is no longer acceptable.
Mr. Roh, however, wants more time to talk with North Korea and reduce military tension through persuasion. Yet he is not specific on what leverage we would be able to use to do so. In fact, both candidates are playing on the vague sentiments of the pubic and are wary of presenting any clear-cut proposals.
The candidates' views on foreign relations are not especially ideological, and could change as the situation changes. They reflect the divisions in public opinion on these matters.
First, there are the widely differing perspective on North Korea. One opinion, that North Korea is our "main enemy," is led by Lee Hoi-chang, and the other is that they are our people and we should embrace them, a view held by Roh Moo-hyun, who favors the approach of President Kim.
Opinions on the United States also vary. Mr. Lee claims that the alliance with the United States plays a great role in our security and economic growth and must continue as it is. On the other hand, Mr. Roh stresses the inequality of the alliance and the need for a change in the old relations that could become obstacles to having relations with North Korea.
The opinions of the two candidates reflect the two major divisions among the South Korean public.
Taking such realities into consideration, it is obvious that unrealistic proposals by the candidates appealing to the pride of the people without regarding the reality of our national power or our position in the international world could come back to haunt the Korean public after the election results are in.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kil Jeong-Woo