[Viewpoint] Our North Korea policy remains firmThree days before the cabinet reshuffle on May 6, several conservative North Korea experts had dinner with advisors to President Lee Myung-bak. I was one of them. At the time, it was almost given that Minister of Unification, Hyun In-taek, would be replaced by Korean ambassador to China, Yu Woo-ik. However, the experts argued that Minister Hyun should remain in the position.
After over a decade, the North Korean policy finally found principles and consistency. And it is largely thanks to Minister Hyun, presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security Chun Young-woo and Kim Tae-hyo, presidential secretary for national security strategy. They are defending the president from those carelessly recommending that South Korea resume dialogue and provide assistance. The principle-based North Korean policy is the most notable of the few accomplishments of the Lee Myung-bak administration.
“And Pyongyang is behaving hysterically. But if the minister of unification is replaced without a clear reason, North Korea would think that their absurd demand has been satisfied. We cannot allow Pyongyang to influence the appointment decision of the unification minister again. If things go wrong, President Lee’s most significant accomplishment may be in jeopardy. Moreover, we are standing at a very sensitive juncture. The Korean Peninsula may be faced with a tsunami of drastic changes. There is no reason to break the bulwark of principles set by Hyun, Chun and Kim,” the experts argued.
In the end, Minister Hyun remained in office. Blue House officials explained that the conservatives constantly conveyed the opinion to the president that if Minister Hyun, who has stood by his principles, was replaced, Seoul may send the wrong message to Pyongyang. It seems like a considerable number of experts thought that it was best to stick with Minister Hyun. In the end, the president acceded to the advice for the better.
The lineup of Hyun, Chun and Kim is seen as keeping a good balance in North Korean policy amid a series of provocations, including the attack on the Cheonan, the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island and cyberterror attacks. Through strategy meetings, lectures, press conferences and interviews, they have been sending a clear message, “Without responsible behavior on the side of North Korea, Pyongyang cannot run away from its earlier crimes against the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island.”
These principles will bring the delinquent student back to his desk. No talk between two Koreas, between Pyongyang and Washington and among the six nations would be of use as long as North Korea refuses to change. Any further dialogue would only grant time and dollars to North Korea.
If a dialogue were to be effective, Pyongyang needs to prove its sincerity to change. It is truly a realistic and clear statement of fact. After over a decade, reasoning and logic have returned to the Blue House and Hyun, Chun and Kim have made strenuous efforts to establish the principle and stand by it.
The Lee Myung-bak administration has been maintaining a principal with the United States as well. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Blue House, President Lee enumerated the previous provocations by North Korea. He said, “When each instance was tolerated, Pyongyang never changed its behavior.” Secretary Clinton prudently pointed out that they did not have much time to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, while she expressed understanding of Seoul’s position in general.
When former U.S. President Jimmy Carter came to Seoul after a visit to North Korea, he met with Minister Hyun. Hyun is said to have pointed out Carter’s naivety in a roundabout yet stinging manner. Carter discussed the poor food and medical conditions in the North and emphasized the need to provide assistance. But Minister Hyun quietly but firmly refuted that what he had seen did not go to the heart of the essence of North Korea.
Whether President Lee listened to the advice from outside of the Blue House or he had made the decision on his own, he is going in the right direction by keeping Minister Hyun. President Lee cleared up any uncertainty that he may change his position even on North Korean policy.
By choosing not to replace Minister Hyun, however, Lee once again emphasized a principle-based North Korean policy to North Korea, China and the United States. The administration needs to protect the fortress built by Hyun, Chun and Kim. It is a wall of principle that we have not seen for a long time.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin