Weight of the president’s wordsEvery word from a president’s mouth carries weight, as the things he says can sway governance and can result in repercussions at home and abroad. Presidential speeches must be scrupulously polished based on accurate knowledge. In this context, we cannot regard lightly President Lee Myung-bak’s latest comment that “unification is drawing nearer.”
During his trip to Malaysia on Thursday, President Lee said, “I can feel that unification is drawing nearer. We must prepare for unification with a stronger economic capability.” North Korean residents are connected with the world and its rapid changes, he continued, saying that their awareness is an “important change” that “no one can stop.” He added that “we have a responsibility to realize peaceful unification as soon as possible to allow the 23 million North Koreans to enjoy the basic right to happiness.”
In short, the president is suggesting that we be prepared to absorb the reclusive state and support North Koreans when they revolt against the oppressive regime. In a presidential advisory meeting last week, he made a similar comment, saying that “there is no power in history that can go against the people’s change.”
We want to believe that the president can back up his sensational comments with sufficient evidence and intelligence. The idea that Seoul will try to overpower North Korea instead of engaging in dialogue is shockingly controversial. Yet his words hardly come across as such because there are no conspicuous signs in North Korea to imply such dramatic changes.
This is not the first time one of our leaders has floated the idea of a collapse of the North Korean regime. Former President Kim Young-sam presented that theory in the late 1990s, and it was popular in Washington amid a stalemate in North Korean affairs. But American pundits quietly backed away from the theory when they realized Pyongyang’s extraordinary viability. Kim soon modified his North Korea policy.
Some regard President Lee’s recent comments as an emotional response to North Korea’s shelling of civilian territory. Faced with a bottleneck due to an unsupportive China, he may be resorting to harsh words to appease an outraged public. But the president’s comments could also end up putting the country’s policies at risk.
If his words are based on actual intelligence, he should say so. Otherwise the public will lose trust in the government. Moreover, he must present a concrete plan because if his predictions are correct, it will affect not only our North Korean policy but also that of the U.S. and China.