Park nothing like her predecessorsPresident Park Geun-hye must have had a favorable impression of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il when she visited Pyongyang in 2002. In her autobiography published in 2007, she wrote, “Chairman Kim was committed to keep the promises that we had agreed on.”
Also, she wrote, “When we open up and talk to Pyongyang, North Koreans make efforts to keep what they had promised. My visit to the North gave me the conviction.”
But Park seems to have changed her mind. When she met with U.S. representatives on April 29, she critically said, “North Korea is so unpredictable. Corporate activities require faithful observance of agreements, but promises come to nothing overnight.”
In fact, the latest situation is a stab in the back for President Park. Since the 2010 Cheonan incident, the Lee Myung-bak administration made it clear there would be no aid or dialogue without an apology for the provocation, and all inter-Korean exchanges remained frozen.
So, to break the deadlock, Park announced a trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula and sent a positive signal to Pyongyang since her presidential campaign.
She attempted to resolve the nuclear issue by building gradual trust from humanitarian and nonpolitical areas first. It was a risk for her because offering a hand to Pyongyang may lead to criticism from conservative supporters still furious over the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks. Nevertheless, Park confidently proposed the trust-building process based on her experience of her visit to Pyongyang.
However, Park’s goodwill came to nothing. In February, Pyongyang went ahead with a third nuclear test despite the international community’s repeated warnings and has been behaving recklessly.
After the UN sanctions, Pyongyang restricted the traffic of Korean employees and pulled out North Korean workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex. It also made large-scale cyberattacks on South Korean banks and media.
The North seems to be trying to tame President Park. Are they underestimating her because she is a woman? Then, they don’t know who Park is. When she heard the news of her father’s assassination, she was concerned about the border situation. She was attacked and got a four-inch-long cut on the face. In order to keep a promise for Sejong City, she confronted the Blue House.
The president stands by her principles despite occasional criticism for excessive stubbornness. Park meant it when she said Pyongyang would not gain from threats and intimidation. The withdrawal of South Korean workers from the Kaesong complex is a decision from her principle of not responding to blackmailing. The young leader of the North should realize that the new president is quite different from her predecessors.
*The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jung-ha