[Viewpoint]Looking ahead at U.S. Pyongyang policy

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[Viewpoint]Looking ahead at U.S. Pyongyang policy

There is perception gap in our society about the key figures being appointed by President-elect Barack Obama to his White House staff and cabinet. It is a pity that there are many Korean government officials and experts who predict there will be no big change in the North Korea policy of the United States once the Obama administration takes office.

Obama was elected on a platform of change, a slogan he used to headline his 21-month election campaign. It is absurd that there are still people who believe that there will be no change made by the Obama administration in U.S. policy on North Korea. Even when Obama was being roundly criticized by rival candidates at his party’s primary campaign and during the presidential race, he promised he would pursue direct talks with the North Korean leader to solve the North Korean nuclear problem.

How can anyone believe that U.S. North Korea policy will not change when such a person has been elected president? It is a miscalculation to think that his public pledge of change is just for the election and that things will not actually shift once he comes into office. With this mindset, we cannot effectively respond to a new stance on North Korea that Obama will bring.

Obama spoke of willingness to talk with North Korea because his understanding and basic policy toward North Korea are different from those of President George W. Bush. Therefore, I am of the opinion that the Korean government should predict the direction of change quickly and prepare an appropriate policy to cope with it.

We have already experienced similar trial and error when it comes to figuring out how to approach Pyongyang. Right after the Bush administration was launched in 2001, the Kim Dae-jung administration suffered tough times as it came into conflict with the United States over North Korea policy.

We cannot relax just because people who know Korea well, like Hillary Clinton, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, have been named to become the new secretary of state, treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council of the Obama government. As they have a good understanding of Korea, they could drive their country to demand even more from our government.

Being in the midst of a financial crisis is making it hard to predict even one step ahead, so we need to thoroughly examine what changes the Obama administration will pursue and prepare ourselves thoroughly. If we don’t, we are going to find ourselves in a difficult situation.

The most serious problem is that people are pinning too much hope on Obama without any grounds for doing so. This can be harmful when trying to objectively predict his North Korea policy.

There is nothing wrong with having a good opinion of Obama’s leadership ability and applauding his election victory. However, we must make a cool-headed and objective evaluation of the policies he will pursue.

The government should not blindly predict that everything will go well between the United States and Korea after the Obama administration begins. We must comprehensively review the effects Obama’s moves will have on our policies and inform the people that the future of Korea-U.S. relations is not necessarily going to be all smooth sailing.

In connection with the start of the Obama administration, the Korean government should expand its focus to problems other than Korea-U.S. relations. Based on a clear understanding of the political and economic situation of the United States, we must study the ripple effects that the shift in American governance will cause. Only then can a proper solution be prepared

Ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, which is of the highest concern in Korea, can be addressed only if the government grasps Obama’s master plan for the U.S. automobile industry.

United States policy on the Korean Peninsula does not exist independently but is closely related to its policy regarding other Northeast Asian nations.

If we look only at Korea-U.S. relations, it is highly likely that our reactions will become overly self-serving. For example, the Bush administration emphasized the role of China in solving the North Korean nuclear problem. Will the Obama administration place as much importance on China, or will it put more emphasis on the role of the United States? Accordingly, the solution to the North Korean nuclear problem will change.

If the Obama administration pursues new foreign policies in the future, some countries will benefit. Of course, there will also be countries that will be put at a disadvantage. Korea should predict how the policies of each country will react to the changes in U.S. policy. We must take preparatory steps that are in line with plans for cooperation with these countries. This is also a way to enhance Korea’s negotiating power with the United States.

Obama has said, “We cannot waste one minute.” We don’t have much time, either.

*The writer is a professor of political science at Inha University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Yong-ho

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