Putting the trust in politicsSouth-North relations have been the worst since Park Geun-hye was elected president last December. The North defied the international community - including patron China - with long-range missile launches and a third nuclear test, followed by nuclear threats against the United States on the pretext of outrage over an annual South Korea-U.S. military exercise last spring.
But the North’s actions backfired. Its third nuclear test invited even tougher UN sanctions with China giving its ally the cold shoulder. South Korea and the U.S. conducted the joint drill more thoroughly than ever before, and America responded to the North’s nuclear threats by mobilizing a dazzling array of sophisticated weapons like the F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, B-2 and B-52 bombers.
President Park has maintained a consistently stern stance. When the North pulled out its entire work force from the Kaesong Industrial Complex for purely political reasons, she threatened to shut it down unless Pyongyang took responsibility for the suspension and promised not to repeat it. The North backed down.
Under such circumstances, President Park again highlighted the importance of her trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula. “We must pave the way for a peaceful and unified peninsula,” she stressed. “Our government will continue to offer humanitarian aid to the North irrespective of political situations .?.?. The important thing is North Korea’s will to change.”
Park sent a serious message to Pyongyang. Underscoring the need to forge a new South-North relationship pegged to the settlement of the dispute over resumption of the Kaesong park, she expressed hopes for “symbiotic South-North relations.” To achieve that goal, Park proposed reunions of families by the DMZ and the building of a world peace park inside the DMZ.
How South-North relations will evolve is hard to predict. As long as the North holds onto its nuclear dream, bilateral relations will hardly improve. As Park said, however, it’s not impossible to establish a South-North relationship based on common sense and international norms. In the process of resolving the Kaesong impasse, Park demanded North Korea follow those two fundamental values. Pyongyang’s acceptance amounts to a first step in realizing the trustpolitik Park has championed.
Park’s proposal is a new opportunity for Pyongyang. We hope it doesn’t squander the opportunity. The North must choose a way toward mutual cooperation and peaceful coexistence, not a path of confrontation. That’s the only way to survive.