[Viewpoint]Find a middle ground

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[Viewpoint]Find a middle ground

North Korea isn’t trying to hide its direct offensive against Korea and the United States. Pyongyang made a series of multidirectional moves last week, making its intentions gradually clearer.
North Korea expelled a team of South Korean officials from the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Consultation Office there and launched missiles into the Yellow Sea. The spokesman for North Korea’s navy issued a statement warning about the possibility of a clash at the Northern Limit Line while its foreign ministry spokesman criticized the United States about the nuclear talks.
North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency demanded an apology for the “pre-emptive attack” remark by a military official here and threatened to ban all visits to the North by South Korean officials. The path Pyongyang has chosen is clear.
The elevated tension in inter-Korean relations has given the Lee Myung-bak administration an ultimatum: Return to the appeasement policy or take a hard line.
The end of the road is the Korea-U.S. summit meeting set for early this month. If President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President George W. Bush condemn Kim Jong-il, take a hard-line stand against the North or boast of their special alliance at the Camp David meeting, then Pyongyang will be ready to deliver on its ultimatum.
A series of warnings and actions are likely to continue until that point. Of course, the actions are aimed not at the United States, but at the new administration in the South.
As the KCNA reports show, we might have to give up hope for any government-level meetings. Another inter-Korean summit meeting is not likely to happen, at least under the Lee Myung-bak administration.
What should we do?
We might have to confront again the fundamental question of appeasement or taking a hard line.
Unlike previous administrations that announced their policy principles at the beginning of their term, the Lee Myung-bak administration has not proposed anything specific. It only offered the slogan, “denuclearization, opening doors and a $3,000 per capita income for North Koreans.”
The Kim Dae-jung administration advocated the Sunshine Policy and the Roh Moo-hyun administration pursued a “peace and prosperity” policy. The Lee administration does not intend to declare any public policies that would restrict its actions regarding North Korea. However, a series of comments he made during and after the campaign could be summed up as “toleration with principle.”
Lee’s remarks at the Ministry of Unification briefing on March 25 displayed that concept most clearly. They were right in the middle between toleration and taking a hard line.
They included a reflection on North Korea policy for the last 10 years ― and we do need some reflection. With the change of administration, the direction of our policies also has to change. However, to achieve denuclearization, which is at the top of the Lee administration’s priorities, the government needs a policy that can be applied immediately because the nuclear talks are in progress. Perhaps Lee wants to propose a more aggressive policy after the general election.
He mentioned at the Ministry of Unification briefing that the new government will begin inter-Korean negotiations in many aspects once the election is over. But North Korea cannot afford to and does not want to wait until then.
The resolution of the latest tension depends on how “tolerance with principles” gets applied to reality.
First, instead of pursuing principles, the government needs to prepare measures that back such principles. Rather than showering the country with aid, we should help North Korea support itself. Second, the government should consult with the North through appropriate channels. If official talks cannot be facilitated immediately, we should seek unofficial channels. Third, it is advisable to discuss cooperation at the summit meeting with the United States so that it will share in the denuclearization.
North Korea does not have much to lose. We are witnessing the fact that the appeasement-only policy has failed to change the North. Appeasement has not given us any leverage.
To promote reasonable North Korea policies and inter-Korean relations, we should act before speaking and show consistency and respect agreements in our action. We also need guts. Most of all, it is important that the citizens do not see the situation in the dichotomy of appeasement or hard line -- simple black-and-white logic.

*The writer is a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ryoo Kihl-Jae

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