Lessons learned from the outbreakIn accordance with Pyongyang’s progress in abandoning its nuclear aims, the Lee Myung-bak administration’s North Korea policy focused on gradually promoting projects related to the economy, education, construction and welfare. The purpose was to help its per-capita income grow to $3,000.
However, North Korea rejected the plan, resulting in a deadlock. The sinking of the ROK Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island followed in 2010, and inter-Korean exchanges were practically severed. But North Korea rejected the plan because it took issue with the per-capita national income requirement, not demands that it denuclearize.
With a per-capita income of $3,000, North Korea would have had a harder time controlling its residents, and they could make political demands. If the citizenry were better off, they could pose a threat to the North Korean regime. Lee’s plan was essentially put aside and became lost in the Park Geun-hye administration.
Her policy, on the other hand, focuses on trust. By building trust based on solid security, inter-Korean ties can be developed, peace will be established and a foundation for reunification can be prepared. However, in the past two and half years, Seoul and Pyongyang have wasted time blaming each other, and the dialogue for trust-building has been suspended. On the 70th anniversary of the peninsula’s liberation and division, the Park administration will at this rate only repeat the failures of the former Lee government.
Now, Seoul needs to calmly distinguish what it wants to accomplish and what it can. As we have seen in the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), inter-Korean relations are a challenge the government cannot handle alone. Surrounding environments have become far more complicated and diversified. If the government tries to tackle it alone, inter-Korean relations could fall in the same kind of entanglement that the MERS outbreak has brought.
Just as the ruling and opposition parties had to work together to prevent the further spread of MERS, our politicians need to combine their wisdom to improve inter-Korean relations. Disagreements can be postponed, and lawmakers should instead begin with what they can agree upon. In the 2012 presidential election, the ruling and opposition candidates had North Korean policy plans that were about 90 percent similar, just with different names. And campaign promises will likely be just as similar in the 2017 presidential election with so little having been implemented at this point.
Granted, it’s drastically difficult to make progress in inter-Korean ties in just a five-year single-term presidency. So the ruling and opposition parties must prepare a sustainable North Korea policy that can be carried down to the succeeding administration to avoid repeating the precedents of the Lee and Park governments. Inter-Korean relations should not be stained by populism to win votes in elections. Let’s not hand the burden down to the future generations anymore.
The author is a researcher at the Unification Research Institute, JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 22, Page 30
by KO SOO-SUK