Park’s outreach to North could displease Washington: Report

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Park’s outreach to North could displease Washington: Report

Seoul and Washington may face rifts in regard to President Park Geun-hye’s policy on inter-Korean activities, including the expansion of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the plan to link the Korean Peninsula to Eurasia via railway, a U.S. congressional think tank said in a report released Thursday.

“An issue for the Obama administration and members of Congress is to what extent they will support - or, not oppose - any initiatives by Park to expand inter-Korean relations,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) paper said.

The report noted the recent resumption of reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War and pointed out that as part of Park’s trustpolitik, her administration since 2014 “has delinked humanitarian assistance from other diplomatic developments, and has offered small-scale bilateral assistance and allowed South Korean nongovernmental groups to operate in North Korea.”

The activities touted by Park to expand inter-Korea relations include easing or ending restrictions on South Korean commercial ties with the North, which were imposed after Pyongyang torpedoed the South’s Cheonan warship in 2010; plans to internationalize and expand the Kaesong Industrial Complex; and her so-called Eurasia initiative, which calls for building a transportation and energy network through North and South Korea, China and Russia.

“Some of the cooperative elements of Park’s approach toward North Korea could conflict with U.S. policy due to an inherent tension that exists in the two countries’ views of Pyongyang,” stated the February 2014 report “U.S.-South Korea Relations.”

This is Washington’s primary concern regarding weapons of mass destruction in North Korea versus South Korea’s prioritization of unification.

It also questioned the extent to which the Park administration will continue to “link progress on denuclearization” to other elements of South Korea’s approach toward the North.

But because of deepened trust between the two administrations following close coordination on North Korean policy, the CRS said that “the Obama administration appears comfortable with letting Park take the lead in trying to encourage more cooperative behavior from Pyongyang” for the time being.

Since taking office, Park has promoted a two-track approach in dealing with North Korea that maintains the economic sanctions implemented during the administration of former President Lee Myung-bak but also urges the regime to return to the negotiating table.

Last month, in her New Year’s address - her first press conference since assuming office - Park referred to reunification as “daebak,” stating that it could prove to be a boon for the local economy.

Daebak can be translated as “jackpot,” though the presidential office said this week that it prefers the official translation of “bonanza.” In her speech, Park also proposed that the two Koreas hold family reunions regularly - an event that came to fruition this week.

A little more than a year ago, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12, 2013, which was followed by weeks of provocations and threats from Pyongyang.

The report underscored that the past five years of relations between Seoul and Washington “have been arguably at their best state in decades,” adding that Korea is one of the United States’ “most important strategic and economic partners in Asia.”

However, on broader regional issues, while Korean and U.S. perspectives generally overlap, “there are areas of significant difference,” it said. “Korea often hesitates to take steps that antagonize China and has shown mistrust toward Japan’s efforts to expand its military capabilities.”

Diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo have sharply deteriorated in recent months following nationalistic moves by Japanese leaders and heated rhetoric over historical and territorial disputes.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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