Pragmatism on North policiesUnification Minister Hyun In-taek, who takes a hard line against North Korea, will most likely be replaced by former ambassador to China Yu Woo-ik. After being nominated for the new job, Yu said that he will think about whether there’s any need for the government to be more flexible with the North in order to bring about progress in inter-Korean relations. That’s a definitive departure from the position of his predecessor. Considering Yu’s reputation as a hardcore pragmatist, many pundits are expecting major changes in inter-Korean relations.
Meanwhile, ruling Grand National Party Chairman Hong Joon-pyo said, “We’ll hear some good news in October,” indicating the presence of backdoor deals between Seoul and Pyongyang. In addition, Kim Jong-il reportedly agreed on the idea of constructing a pipeline to transfer natural gas from Russia to South Korea via the North. Under the circumstances, it is likely that Yu’s nomination heralds a major shift in our policy on the North.
Inter-Korean relations have been in the doldrums since the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration took office. There is no doubt the North played a key role in the deterioration of relations - as evidenced by the North’s handling of the killing of a South Korean tourist at Mount Kumgang, the Cheonan sinking and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island. But the Lee administration’s excessive adherance to its hard-line principles has also played a part. The problem is that such intransigence can do more harm than good for peace and stability in the region.
There is an enormous amount of tasks awaiting answers from Seoul and Pyongyang. One of the top priorities for us is receiving an apology from the North for its past military provocations. There are indications that both sides are discussing the issue, as seen by the disappearance of condemnation of President Lee from North Korean media outlets as well as GNP Chairman Hong’s remarks.
Given that substance outweighs style, such a shift in our North Korea policy is worth consideration. As a matter of fact, our exclusive right to tourism at Mount Kumgang resort, which has been confiscated by the North, needs to be restored as soon as possible, not to mention the resumption of reunions for separated families.
We should never give up laying the foundation for unification by encouraging the North to head toward reform by relinquishing its nuclear program. There is no shortcut to the goal. It would be much better to take a step-by-step approach than a shortcut.