Practical approach needed

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Practical approach needed

It is no secret that our society is deeply divided over North Korea policy. The schism is ever widening. The conservatives and liberals remain poles apart over the sinking of naval ship Cheonan in 2010. If governing power changes hands through the April parliamentary and December presidential elections, the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration’s policy on North Korea may be thrown out the window.

Society’s disagreement over North Korea has deepened due to discrepancies in policy over the course of three conservative and two liberal administrations since 1987. We can hardly pursue effective policy toward such an unpredictable regime by being inconsistent ourselves. We may cross a river of no return if extreme liberals push ahead with their desire to end the armistice status quo and replace it with a union of North and South that tolerates North Korea’s nuclear arms.

A recent academic forum offered middle ground on the issue. The agreement between President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il after a summit on Oct. 4, 2007 has served as the biggest stumbling block between conservatives and liberals.

The liberals demanded immediate and full action to honor the agreement while conservatives cited security and financing problems to argue for more caution. They squabbled over the plan instead of examining it with care.

The forum dissected the agreement, exposing both its merits and drawbacks. Ewha Womans University Professor Cho Dong-ho questioned some of the economic problems of the business projects. The two states agreed to run freight rail service between Munsan and Bondong in the Demilitarized Zone. But there is no train station at Bondong. The two also agreed to establish shipbuilding facilities in Anbyeon and Nampo. But Nampo and Anbyeon are hardly fit for dockyards. The two governments reached agreement on what should have been a corporate deal without any feasibility study.

Other panelists also agreed to the unrealistic points of the agreement. Liberal-minded Yonsei University Professor Park Myong-rim said he had been critical of the June 15 Joint Declaration between President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il in 2000 because it failed to address peace and disarmament issues. Panelists generally agreed on continuity in private humanitarian aid to North Korea. If conservatives and liberals start debating each other on such basic facts, we may come up with a flexible and effective policy on North Korea.

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