[Outlook]Losing on North Korea

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[Outlook]Losing on North Korea

North Korea policies have disappeared from the agenda of the presidential candidates. The would-be presidents are no longer making promises about how they will deal with our neighbor to the north, one of the most distinguishing traits of this year’s presidential campaign. Less than two months have passed since the summit between South and North Korea, but voters only have vague memories of the meeting.
Early this year, it was hard to imagine this situation could possibly come to this. Many people predicted that inter-Korean issues would be the deciding factor in the December presidential election. People in the political arena also expected that once the summit meeting was held, it would deal a deadly blow to the opposition parties. The campaign’s strong contenders could not say bad words about North Korea. Every one of them sent their people to Pyongyang or Beijing in a bid to get an invitation from Kim Jong-il.
The ruling circle made its best behind-the-scene efforts to make the summit happen, while the opposition parties worked hard to stop it or to gather related information to weaken the meeting’s influence. Both sides mobilized experts on North Korea and waged wars of information.
However, the summit meeting turned out to be a mere storm in a tea cup. Media outlets poured out huge numbers of articles and reports on the meeting, but South Koreans showed a cold response. The agreements that President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il reached were very important, but they failed to move South Koreans.
The position of being disappointed was left unchanged for South Korea’s incumbent administration. Recently, a ministerial meeting between South and North Korean government officials was held and many promises were made, mostly on economic aid. But South Koreans did not pay attention to it, either. Many do not even know that such a meeting was held. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Unification keeps releasing follow-up measures on economic cooperation. This is in spite of the fact that it is not good manners at the end of an administration to draw up plans for improving inter-Korean relations. These will be passed on to the president who will be in office for five years beginning 2008.
The incumbent administration’s stance on inter-Korean issues is like a company in trouble. The chairman and the vice executive of the company, whose terms are ending soon, announce grand business plans and place orders, forcing their successors to settle and pay them. Rosy plans without consideration of budgets only make the company’s stock plummet.
The government stresses that the agreements were made legitimately and are legally binding. It seems to imply that the next administration cannot discard them even if it does not agree with their terms. The government perhaps thought that signing agreements would be better than doing nothing, and didn’t think about the projects’ feasibility. That is, the administration rushed to reach agreements, or it thought it would be good if agreements were implemented. If not, there was nothing to lose. This is like confessing that the government is in a panic.
Everything must be done in accordance with common sense. North Korea, the country that aspires to become a military superpower, conducted a nuclear test, and the South Korean government said the test was not aimed at South Korea. The government sounded like it was North Korea’s spokesperson. The South Korean government argued that we need to increase economic aid to North Korea, instead. It lashed out those who opposed the idea, saying that they wanted war with the North.
As for the Northern Limit Line, a border on the Yellow Sea, South Koreans suspect that the president agreed to practically demilitarize the sea border that North Korea had been displeased with and wanted to reset.
The government’s irrational acts worsen the chaos reigning among progressive forces. Support rates for the presidential candidates reflect the response of the people, who are shareholders of the state.
The candidates in progressive camps have reconciliation with North Korea as the most important pledge and they are in deep trouble. The combined support rate of the four progressive candidates is lower than even half the support rate of the two conservative candidates.
One candidate criticized the North Korea policy of the Grand National Party, the conservative party, as too soft and vague and called himself a true conservative candidate.
He enjoyed the second highest support rate as soon as he announced his run for the presidency. That proves that demand for a prudent North Korea policy has increased significantly while the administration toyed with peace, putting up national security as collateral.
The progressives used to have a vast and fertile foundation. Even when they kept losing in by-elections, they swore that they would win in major elections, even by one vote. In fact, they kept winning major elections for a while. But now, they can no longer say that.
The incumbent administration has only itself to blame.

*The writer is the senior political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Gyo-joon
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