[Viewpoint] There’s no there there

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[Viewpoint] There’s no there there

The U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs wields powerful influence on U.S. foreign policy. It is famous for publishing a work by George Kennan under the pseudonym “X” elaborating on the doctrine of containment against communist states, which later became the foundation of the West’s Cold War policy in 1947 and inspired the “Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel Huntington in 1993.

Many leaders and scholars have expanded on international issues in its pages, offering solutions and direction for the world. To many in the business of dealing with state and diplomatic affairs, the journal serves as a kind of the Bible on foreign policy. To be published in the magazine is a recognition of an individual’s insight into foreign and state affairs.

In its recently-published edition, the magazine carried an article on North Korea by former Grand National Party leader Park Geun-hye, who is the front-runner in opinion polls for the 2012 presidential election.

Her article raised great interest as it could form the basis of her platform in the presidential race and her vision of North Korean affairs as South Korea’s next potential leader.

And it came at a time of great complexity, as North Korea embarks on a delicate hereditary power transfer and amid a stalemate in inter-Korean relations following attacks on the Cheonan naval ship and Yeonpyeong Island.

But the next potential conservative leader wasted a rare opportunity to be spotlighted in an influential journal with uninspiring and sloppy statements, offering no more than what the incumbent Lee Myung-bak government has been hitherto unsuccessfully pursuing on the North Korean policy front.

Park called for “trustpolitik” to bridge the rift between the two Koreas, which she characterized as lacking in trust. First, she urged North Korea to meet all its agreements with South Korea and the international community to gain trust.

She said South Korea should take immediate and firm actions against North Korea should the latter make another military strike against the South to teach it the costs of provocation.

Forgetting about the term “trustpolitik,” the idea that Pyongyang should commit itself to international contracts and could be responded to with strong actions in the case of further military provocations is a stance both Seoul and Washington have maintained over the years.

It is incomprehensible why Park should package a long-standing position under an invented, grandiose term in a respected foreign magazine. She also called for an “alignment policy” toward Pyongyang as a mechanism to enforce trustpolitik, tying South Korea’s security to endeavors to improve inter-Korean relations and international cooperation.

Park explained that an alignment policy is a kind of quid-pro-quo, flexible policy in which South Korea matches steps by North Korea toward genuine reconciliation or toward hostility.

It isn’t news that South Korea’s security situation, in which the Koreas are still at de facto war and the South is over-dependent on its alliance with the United States, is abnormal. There cannot be genuine peace without reconciliation between the two Koreas.

That is why, despite its wayward ways, South Korea continuously seeks dialogue with North Korea and was ever-tolerant and generous in the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. Yet peace never came.

The main problem is North Korea’s peculiarities, such as its third-generation hereditary power transfer, and they are beyond our control.

Park wrote that South Korea and the international community must endeavor to persuade North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons program to ensure a safer and richer future - a comment that is hardly new. She has disappointed many who hoped to hear a new solution and path to resolve the North Korean predicament.

In fact, her article in Foreign Affairs underscored the fact that her ideas on North Korea have deteriorated from a 2009 address at Stanford University. At the time, she said the North Korean nuclear problem should not be addressed singularly but rather in a regional multi-security framework.

That would be the correct way to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue, as an element in a broader context concerning the Korean Peninsula and peace in Northeast Asia. She should have sharpened and expanded on her thoughts on North Korea as described in the Stanford University address.

To merely tweak the incumbent government’s hard-line stance is irresponsible and unimaginative. Park cannot offer any improvement in inter-Korean relations and North Korean affairs through the policy outlined in the recent article.

She should seriously contemplate inter-Korean relations so that next time she can provide an insightful, refreshing and feasible vision.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Young-hie
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