Time for a paradigm shiftPresident Lee Myung-bak said that the government should augment our security while at the same time putting our shoulder to the wheel to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. In its New Year’s editorial, North Korea also stressed the importance of easing tension and having dialogue with its southern counterpart. In a dramatic reversal of the turbulent relationship epitomized by the North’s sinking of the Cheonan warship and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, both Koreas have suddenly - and coincidently - started to stress the need for dialogue.
Such positive announcements by both sides will not, however, immediately translate into a substantial improvement in bilateral relations. The North said that it will not ease its military posture, while underscoring a need for dialogue with the South. Our government also responded to the North’s appeasement gestures by saying that it still doubts the veracity of the North’s sentiments.
However, both Koreas are expected to have a significant opportunity to seek policy change toward each other this year. First, the United States and China will likely agree on a resumption of six-party talks at their upcoming summit in Washington. Russia, too, strongly demands the resumption of the talks, with Japan also accentuating a need for dialogue with the North. Once the six-party talks begin, North Korea will most likely attempt to put an end to its diplomatic and economic isolation through the talks in an effort to achieve the goal of becoming a “strong and prosperous nation by 2012.”
President Lee’s emphasis on dialogue with North Korea seems to have stemmed from an urgent need to prepare for any dramatic shift in tides in Northeast Asia. As host of the Nuclear Security Summit in 2012, Seoul needs to make some improvements on the North Korean nuclear issue.
As seen over the past 10 years, a lop-sided approach is doomed to fail. President Lee’s emphasis on a two-track approach toward the North is, therefore, understood as a preemptive move to cope with the changing situation, hinting at the possibility that his North Korea policy will finally undergo a paradigm shift after 10 years of trial and error under the two previous administrations.
We hope that Lee’s new paradigm - enhancing dialogue and cooperation while maintaining a strong defense capability - will help to draw out some meaningful change in North Korea next year.