With speech, Lee tells Pyongyang it’s time to change

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With speech, Lee tells Pyongyang it’s time to change

President Lee Myung-bak yesterday told the new leadership in Pyongyang to face up to reality and change, stressing that his administration’s consistent North Korea policy has paid off.

In his address marking the 67th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, Lee issued a short message to Pyongyang.

“For South-North relations to develop in a consistent and sound manner, ties between the two sides should first be on a normal footing,” Lee said. “All along, the North Korea policy of this administration has been solidly based on this recognition.”

Lee, then, said the policy has played a role in change in the North. “Superficially, the situation may look different,” Lee said, “but in reality, the administration’s principled North Korea policy is evaluated as beginning to bring about a substantial effect.”

“Pyongyang has also come to a point where it has to look straight at reality and consider a transformation,” he continued. “We will carefully watch for possible change.”

Lee’s message came as new signs of North Korea’s reform were seen in recent weeks. After Kim Jong-il’s death in December last year, the reclusive communist regime, under the leadership of his young son Kim Jong-un, has shown signs of change.

The latest sign of Kim’s capitalist experiment was seen recently as the North reportedly adopted a new economic measure in June to change its state-supervised distribution system in an apparent shift toward a market economy.

Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of the North Korean leader, is also visiting the North’s closest ally China to discuss further development of the joint economic zones.

Urging the North to comply with its promise of denuclearization, Lee said the South is ready and willing to help the North based on the progress. “The South is open to inter-Korean dialogue, while at the same time being mindful of the human [rights] situation in the North,” Lee said.

He also stressed that Korean unification will be “a great blessing for the neighboring nations as well as all other countries,” promising to steadily prepare for it.

The liberal opposition Democratic United Party yesterday criticized Lee’s speech for having failed to address the inter-Korean issue properly.

“It is beyond disappointing that he made no mention on improving inter-Korean relations,” Park Yong-jin, the DUP spokesman, said yesterday, criticizing the Lee administration for doing nothing about what the DUP sees as “the worst inter-Korean relations since the [1950-53] Korean War.”

In addition to the brief message to the North, Lee used most of his Liberation Day address yesterday to praise the achievements of his four-year presidency.

“In my inaugural address in 2008, I declared the ‘first year for the advancement of the Republic of Korea,’ ” Lee said. “Marking the 67th Liberation Day today, I assert that the Republic of Korea has proudly joined the ranks of advanced countries.”

Reminding the nation of the global economic crisis triggered by the euro fiscal crisis and the growing wealth polarization, Lee promoted shared growth of conglomerates and small enterprises.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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