Candidates differ widely on North

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Candidates differ widely on North

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Voters gather yesterday at Daejeon Station to watch a presidential candidate stump to build support. [YONHAP]


While presidential candidates Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in have presented similar pledges on economic democratization, education reform and welfare, their stances on one topic - North Korea policy - are distinctly different.

Both Park, presidential candidate of the Saenuri Party, and Moon, the Democratic United Party contender, said they will improve the frozen inter-Korean relations by resuming talks with Pyongyang.

Park, however, showed her more conservative leanings by urging North Korea to apologize for its provocations in recent years, while Moon said the dialogue must resume unconditionally. During the Lee Myung-bak administration, inter-Korean relations suffered from three fatal attacks by the North.

The first happened in July 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead during her tour of Mount Kumgang. That immediately shut down the tour program, which began in 1998 as a symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas.

Regarding this issue, Park said an apology from the North is absolutely necessary before the tour can be resumed.

In her media interviews, Park said it was regretful that the program was suspended due to the death of the tourist.

If the North makes an acceptable, responsible measure to guarantee South Korean tourists’ safety, the program should resume, Park said.

In contrast, Moon said there is nothing barring Seoul from resuming the tour.

“Since North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has given assurance to Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun [that there won’t be a recurrence of the shooting death of a South Korean tourist], we can just go ahead and resume the tour,” Moon said during his debate with Ahn Cheol-soo last week. “There is no need to have additional negotiations. We can resume them after confirming Kim’s remarks to Hyun.”

Hyundai Group is the South Korean operator of the tour program and Hyun visited the North in August 2009 and met with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The two candidates also have opposing stances on the North’s sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. After the ship sank on March 26, 2010, an international team of experts conducted a two-month probe and concluded that the Cheonan was torpedoed by the North.

During her solo televised debate with a group of panelists on Monday night, Park used the incident to attack Moon and highlight her strong national security vision.

“Forty-six sailors were killed during the Cheonan’s sinking, but the liberals challenged the investigation outcome and argued that the ship just sank, that it wasn’t torpedoed,” Park said. “They are trying to please the North, and I really want to ask who can better counter the North’s missile threats. I think the voters have the clear answer on who can defend this country.”

During a primary debate in June, Moon didn’t hide his skepticism of the government’s conclusion on Cheonan. Although he said he respects the announcement of the Ministry of National Defense, Moon said, “The government needs to work more sincerely to answer reasonable doubts raised by experts.”

He also recently said if he wins the election, his government will try to resolve doubts about the government’s conclusion over the incident.

The two candidates also have different approaches on whether or not South Korea should lift sanctions against the North. Park told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday that the so-called May 24 measures won’t be lifted without the North’s changes.

“Resuming dialogue between the two Koreas is important,” Park said. “We need the North’s apologies for the Yeonpyeong Island shelling and the sinking of Cheonan, but they are not preconditions for the talks.

“While we can discuss various issues during the talks, I don’t mean that the economic sanctions should be lifted immediately,” she continued. “The North has shown no changes, while our young soldiers were sacrificed. We can’t just pretend as if nothing happened.”

Moon, in contrast, said the economic sanctions on the North must be lifted unconditionally. Criticizing the Lee Myung-bak administration’s decision to apply sanctions after the Cheonan’s sinking in 2010, Moon said he wants to have an inter-Korean summit in his first year of the presidency if he wins the election.

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

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