[Outlook]North policy has a missing linkDoes history repeat itself, and places and people just change? We are aware of how the George W. Bush administration, which took office in 2001, turned former President Bill Clinton’s North Korea policy upside down.
In Korea, the Lee Myung-bak administration seems to be taking the same step. When running for office, President Lee Myung-bak released his North Korea policy. That is, if and when North Korea abandons its nuclear program and opens its doors, the South will help it achieve $3,000 national per capita income within 10 years.
North Korea’s denuclearization is a condition for help. This is a linkage policy, a concept opposite to parallelism. Parallelism tries to improve inter-Korean relations and make North Korea abandon its nuclear program at the same time.
Since the 1990s, the linkage policy and parallelism have repeatedly confronted each other when it comes to inter-Korean relations and the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.
The Kim Dae-jung administration’s Sunshine Policy and the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s engagement policy were examples of parallelism. The Kim Young-sam administration’s North Korea policy was a typical linkage policy, as the former president declared that he wouldn’t even shake hands with someone who possessed nuclear weapons. The South-North Basic Agreement reached in 1991 ended the heated debate and coordinated the North Korea policy with parallelism.
President Lee emphasizes the importance of the South-North Basic Agreement, not the June 15 Joint Declaration between former President Kim Dae-jung and North Korea’s Leader Kim Jong-il or the Oct. 4 Joint Declaration between former President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il. This probably means that he rejects the two joint declarations and wants to use the Basic Agreement as the basis for his North Korea policy.
The Basic Agreement supports parallelism. Thus, when emphasizing the value of the document, Lee could be misunderstood so that people think that is the policy he will pursue. However, he clearly stated that North Korea’s denuclearization was a precondition for assistance from the South and improvement of inter-Korean ties. As Lee doesn’t mention the June 15 and Oct. 4 joint declarations, he is believed to be ignoring them. When referring to the Basic Agreement’s importance, he seems to be failing to see that the Basic Agreement contains parallelism.
Kim Tae-young, who was named as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, mentioned a pre-emptive attack on North Korea’s nuclear facility, recalling President Bush’s argument for the same measure. But this remark might add fuel to the fire.
The Basic Agreement was reached because the Roh Tae-woo administration and the George H. W. Bush administration made an agreement in advance. The United States and South Korea agreed that Washington would focus on the nuclear issue in its North Korea policy, while Seoul would pursue resolution of the nuclear issue and improvement of inter-Korean relations in parallel. This agreement led to successful negotiations with the North. As promised to the North during the negotiations, South Korea and the U.S. halted their Team Spirit military exercise in 1992. In 1992, the senior Bush failed to win re-election, while in Korea the Kim Young-sam administration was launched. Witnessing the collapse of the former Soviet Union and socialist countries in Eastern Europe, Kim Young-sam believed that North Korea would collapse, too, if it was left as it was. That was the beginning of the lost five years in inter-Korean relations.
Is Lee going back to the hard-line policy of Kim Young-sam and the first term of the Bush administration, when he says he’s going back to the spirit of the Basic Agreement? The June 15 Joint Declaration was to put the forgotten Basic Agreement into practice and the Oct. 4 Joint Declaration was to expand the June 15 Joint Declaration.
Thus, it is better to examine their feasibility rather to reject them and choose practical options in coordination with the progress of the six-party talks, which are at a crucial phase.
Lee seems to be pursuing a different North Korea policy from his two predecessors. But rejecting the past 10 years and pursuing a hard-line policy are not enough to make his policy unique. As he emphasized himself, to change the South’s attitude when negotiating with the North is important.
The best way for Lee to differentiate his North Korea policy from those that have come before is to: 1) not cede initiative to the North by seeking hasty agreements that could lead to a Nobel Peace Prize, and 2) have his aides move away from the illusion of self-reliance when they talk with North Korea.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie