A sustainable strategy for the North

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A sustainable strategy for the North

The storm from a boisterous presidential race has wound down, and a new government is in the making. The repercussions from the so-called “revenge of voters in their 50s” still linger. But what has past is past, and we are in a hurry to make new plans, resolutions and sail into a new beginning. The struggling economy stuck in the middle-income trap is urgently in need of a new boost, but other problems have reared their ugly heads.

My primary interest is North Korea. I want to know how President-elect Park Geun-hye plans to realize her goal of “normalizing inter-Korean relations based on mutual trust.”

Park has proclaimed a new direction in North Korean policy different from the current hard-line stance controversially championed by President Lee Myung-bak. Her top priority, at least according to campaign promises, will be solving the nuclear issue without attaching conditions. Yet she does not plan a return to the all-forgiving engagement seen in the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. In short, she plans to blend the best of North Korean policies from the past three governments.

I couldn’t possibly agree with her more. The people have long demanded a flexible yet pragmatic stance on North Korea that could foster a breakthrough in the long stalemate between the North and the South.

For the past few years, North Korean experts have advised a moderate policy on North Korea. As there have already been ample suggestions, I want to highlight some of what I think are the most comprehensive and constructive ideas.

One excellent sample is a book titled “North Korea in 2032: Coevolution to Help its Advance” co-published by Ha Young-sun, a professor at Seoul National University, and Cho Dong-ho, a professor at Ewha Womans University, in November 2010. The book puts forth ideas from six scholars on helping the isolated and underdeveloped North. What’s interesting is that the scholars discussed ways to bring positive change from the perspective of North Korea while suggesting policy steps neighboring countries can take to help push the North in that direction.

What they suggested is not merely a repeat of old ideas. Instead, they visualized what kind of country North Korea should be by 2032 and mapped out the necessary changes for the evolution. The book concluded that such a transformation cannot be completed through North Korea’s efforts alone. It must be accompanied by support from neighboring countries to realize the so-called “coevolution.”

In October, Cho published a similar book, this one called “Coevolution Strategy for Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation: Voices from Conservative and Liberal.” Both conservative and progressive scholars discussed the potential for economic joint ventures between the two Koreas. While the first series presents ideas on political, economic, military, diplomatic and human rights issues from a broader prospective, the second lists specific action points for economic cooperation.

Another good reference would be “Evaluation and Recommendations on North Korean Policies in the 21st Century” published by the National Institute of Unification last December by senior research fellow Park Jong-chul and four others. The think tank parses through North Korean policies of the past and present to draw some lessons from the failures and successes, and develop a better set of prescriptions.

The authors dissected the pros and cons of the so-called “Sunshine Policy” pursued by the most recent Kim and Roh governments as well as the hawkish stance of President Lee.

Together, the researchers advised putting equal weight on competing perspectives when it comes to North Korea and suggested carrying them out simultaneously in order to overcome the shortcomings of both engagement and hard-line diplomacy. It is only via this method that inter-Korean relations can get back on track, they said.

These books are hardly easy to read. Many of them reach one conclusion - that stability in inter-Korean relations, including resolution of the nuclear issue, could put South Korea on a stronger footing for sustainable progress. The country needs a comprehensive and systematic manual on North Korean policy that can be sustained regardless of who takes office every five years. But such a basic outline cannot be made without public consensus and understanding. This is why the public must take interest in these books on North Korea.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kang Young-jin
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