[EDITORIALS]The U.S. shifts its stanceU.S. Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow said that Washington supports the efforts by Seoul to bring changes to North Korea through inter-Korean economic cooperation but urged caution. He argued that North Korea might use the technology transfered from Seoul to enhance its military power. Unlike previous U.S. ambassadors, he was directly expressing a hawkish stance toward the North. Regarding his remarks, in which he described the North as a “criminal regime” that engages in making counterfeit money and other illegal activities, he merely said that it was something that needed to be said. Participating at a recent North Korean human rights forum, he also said that it is time to act to improve the human rights situation in the North. Now, the ambassador has tried to put the brakes on inter-Korean economic cooperation as well.
His remarks are attracting attention because they might indicate a shift in Washington’s policy toward the North. Until September, when nations involved in North Korean nuclear negotations agreed on an international joint statement, the United States had shown some flexibility toward the North. For example, it at least partially agreed to the North’s demand for a light water reactor. Nevertheless, its attitude has changed. Citing weapons proliferation, Washington has imposed sanctions on suspected North Korean companies, adopting a strong stance toward the North.
South Korea and the United States have been at odds regarding Seoul’s support for the North. The United States views this support as a means for the North to strengthen its dictatorial regime, while our government views its support as the price of peace. Considering that Mr. Vershbow has cited the issue of inter-Korean economic cooperation, it can be said that Washington has shown the first signs that it will say what it has to say to Seoul based on its own foreign policy.
The current South Korea-U.S. relationship is in such a state that the South Korean unification minister refused a request to meet with the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, and a procurement project that involves an advanced airborne warning system has widened the rift between the two sides. Under such circumstances, if the United States’ policy intervenes actively into South Korea’s policy, the relationship is only going to get worse. The government needs to think deeply about its response toward the U.S. position while considering what this could mean for the South Korea-U.S. alliance.