President’s positive shiftPresident Lee Myung-bak said yesterday during an annual briefing by the Ministry of Unification that military confrontation is not necessarily a given when it comes to inter-Korean relations, stressing the need to strengthen peace efforts while augmenting our defense capabilities.
And during a briefing by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Lee emphasized the importance of solving North Korea’s nuclear issue through the six-party talks.
We take special note of the sharp contrast in those comments with what he said earlier. Since the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, Lee has been increasingly vocal about the need to respond to the North’s aggression. “We should never be afraid of a war and we must retaliate against the North with massive firepower,” he had said.
Such a drastic change in position may have come from a careful and objective assessment of the circumstances surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
With regard to the six-party talks, in particular, Lee underscored that we must address the North’s nuclear threats through diplomatic efforts, including regional talks, and that South Korea should play a pivotal role.
Since the North’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island, the government has flatly refused to take part in six-party talks. It even rejected China’s suggestion of a meeting among senior officials of the six countries, calling for a suspension of the North’s nuclear programs before a return to the talks could take place.
Lee’s latest remarks, therefore, seem to herald a dramatic reversal from the government’s previous position on North Korea. For national security, a strong military and seasoned diplomacy are needed. In this context, we see President Lee’s remarks as extremely positive.
Prolonging or exacerbating the current tensions on the peninsula is not good for North or South Korea, let alone our neighbors in Northeast Asia. The only solution is to prevent the North from further provocations via diplomatic cooperation among concerned parties while at the same time keeping the military on high alert. After North Korea officially declared that it will develop nuclear weapons based on uranium enrichment, the issue has become even more urgent. The U.S. and China plan to hold a summit in Washington, D.C., and address the issue. Japan is also moving toward resuming talks with North Korea. We must now find the correct balance between pressure and dialogue.