Lee says ‘change’ coming to North

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Lee says ‘change’ coming to North

An unstoppable change is taking place among the North Korean people, and the time has come for South Korea to prepare for unification, President Lee Myung-bak said Thursday, an indication of a harsher policy toward Pyongyang in retribution for the communist regime’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

“I can feel that unification is drawing nearer,” Lee said during a meeting with Korean residents in Malaysia on Thursday night. “We must prepare for unification with a stronger economic capability.”

Lee said the North Korean people had been blocked to world affairs in the past, but now they understand how the world is changing. “They’ve begun to understand now that South Korea is prosperous,” he said. “This is an important change, and no one can stop this. Unification is drawing nearer.”

This was the second time in a week that Lee spoke about changes taking place among the North Korean people. “What we must pay attention to is the North Korean people’s change, not the change of the North Korean leadership,” Lee said on Dec. 3. “There is no power in history that can go against the people’s change.”

More of Lee’s views on North Korea was published by a Malaysian newspaper yesterday. In an interview with The Star, Lee urged the North to change by saying, “Pyongyang should open its doors for economic growth as Beijing has done. I hope China will actively encourage the North to choose the same route that it has taken.”

Lee also said economic cooperation between the two Koreas will become more active when Pyongyang clearly states its intention to give up its nuclear weapons programs.

Blue House officials said Lee’s remarks on change among the North Korean people had not been discussed with them in advance. People in the presidential office and the ruling party interpreted Lee’s remarks as a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a kind of psychological warfare.

“The president doesn’t really have a good card to use against the North,” said a North Korea specialist in the ruling circle. “In such a circumstance, what Lee can do is shake up the North Korean leadership with harsh words.”

A presidential aide said yesterday that Lee’s remarks were not based on any new information about the North Korean people. “It should be understood as a warning to the North Korean regime,” he said.

Others went even further. They said Lee has decided not to treat the North Korean leadership as a dialogue partner after the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, and his remarks are a de facto declaration of his desire for a regime change in Pyongyang.

“That’s why Lee did not demand an apology from the North for the latest attack,” said a senior ruling circle official close to the president. “Lee’s recent remarks mean that he will now try to change the North Korean regime.”

Another ruling circle official also said Lee is contemplating a major change in his North Korea policy. “He is mulling over changing the focus of the inter-Korean relationship from dialogue to security,” he said. “And his thoughts are reflected in his remarks.”

It is, however, unlikely that Lee’s remarks will have a profound effect, a North Korea expert said. “Lee’s remarks won’t likely shake up the North Korean leadership or stir up North Korean residents,” he said. “It will probably work as a stress-releaser for the South Korean people over the North’s repeated provocations.”


By Ser Myo-ja, Namkoong Wook [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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