Leading North toward reform

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Leading North toward reform

With the sudden death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea faces an unprecedented crisis. Our first concern is what kind of policies Kim’s heir, Jong-un, will pursue in the absence of his father. No one believes the rogue state will drastically improve its people’s living standards as soon as 2012, the first year Kim Jong-il promised his people to turn the country into a “prosperous and powerful nation.”

Now with the death of the “dear leader,” poverty-stricken North Koreans can harbor a glimmer of hope for a better future. If Jong-un fails to meet their expectations, they will not only be disappointed but increasingly dismissive of the recalcitrant regime.

With no expertise in international affairs, Jong-un should establish new foreign relationships on the global stage. With many countries closely watching the possibility of a shift in the North’s diplomatic policies, will it become increasingly hostile against the international community or eventually abandon its cherished nuclear dream? If the North follows the first scenario, the international society will probably put more pressure on North Korea, which would put Pyongyang’s new leadership in peril.

Does the North’s new leadership have the will or ability to change the world’s critical perception of it? It’s seen as an autocratic state epitomized by stubborn adherence to now-defunct Stalinist ideology, rampant human rights abuses and massive political prisoner camps across the country. If Pyongyang fails to change, then we can hardly expect a peaceful resolution of the crisis the North faces.

Despite our efforts to achieve permanent peace, however, North Korea launched military attacks against us in the Yellow Sea, not to mention nuclear tests, which forced us take a hard-line policy against the North.

Kim’s death provides an opportunity to reflect upon our past relationship with Pyongyang. It is time for us to draft new strategies to cope with any possibilities, including an abrupt breakup of the regime. Though it may take time to come up with answers to several scenarios, we cannot delay the process forever.

Our government’s decision to express condolences for Kim’s death was appropriate. But we propose another initiative, which is offering a considerable amount of food to our starved northern brethren in an effort to deliver a positive message to the new leadership in Pyongyang. We hope it will be the first step toward the goal of encouraging the North to take a path toward reform and peaceful coexistence.
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