Our quicksilver North policiesWhat impact does a change of administration in South Korea have on relations with North Korea? Regrettably, it’s impossible to deny that it’s usually bad. With the launch of the liberal Kim Dae-jung administration in 1998, most of the Kim Young-sam administration’s policies toward the North were tossed in the rubbish bin. The Roh Moo-hyun administration’s engagement policies with the North faced the same fate after the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration came to power. To put it simply, there’s not much consistency in our government’s policies toward the North, and that only fuels internal conflict in our society.
It is, of course, legitimate for a new administration to take a different approach, especially if it won power promising new policies. But if the new president reverses his predecessor’s positions without deep reflection on the overall state of bilateral relations, he will always be starting from scratch without the benefit of previous experience and know-how on North Korea. One typical example is the joint declaration for the development of inter-Korean relations, peace and prosperity between President Roh and Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang on October 4, 2007. The joint declaration contained proposals the North would have trouble pushing ahead with. If the current administration had proposed to the North that both sides meet to find better ways to implement the earlier agreements, it could have relaxed tense relations and strengthened our ability to deal with the North in times of crisis.
With this in mind, various proposals made at the Korean Peninsula Forum sponsored by the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday are very meaningful. Among them, we need to pay special attention to the argument that there should be some consistency in our North policies regardless of who wins the Blue House. In other words, a South Korean government must seek a public consensus on the issue by isolating desirable elements from previous administrations’ policies as seen in the Basic Agreement for Reconciliation and Non-aggression (1991), the June 15th South-North Joint Declaration (2000) and the October 4 declaration (2007).
It is our judgment that the government must include humanitarian aid to the North as a constant, as there is no better unification policy than winning the hearts of our northern compatriots through fuller bellies. The first step toward the goal of improved bilateral relations and eventual unification is fixing some elements, including food aid, as constants for the next 10 or 20 years.