Time to unitePresident Park Geun-hye’s special speech on Tuesday at the National Assembly says it all. In a stunning departure from the government’s North Korea policies over the years, the president made it official: She will drastically change policies toward the North after putting top priority on creating an environment that forces Pyongyang to give up its cherished nuclear program. Her touted initiative of building trust on the Korean Peninsula through inter-Korean exchange and cooperation has abruptly come to an end even before it starts.
President Park vowed to “carry out powerful measures aimed at letting the North realize that it cannot survive with nuclear weapons alone.” She stressed that Pyongyang must understand that the nuclear path only accelerates the collapse of the regime. It is the first time that she has mentioned the taboo word - regime collapse - publicly.
Given the grave security threat posed by the North’s nuclear and long-range missile tests, potent sanctions are unavoidable. There is no doubt that all the responsibility must be borne by Pyongyang. As the possibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un abandoning nuclear development is even slimmer now, South-North relations will most likely head to heightened tension and confrontation for quite a long time.
The question is how to draw a strong - yet cool-headed - consensus from the public even when tension rapidly builds up after the dramatic turnaround in the government’s policies. The nation faces deepening national division over the government’s shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex - the last vestige of inter-Korean engagement - and deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, system in South Korea. The opposition criticizes the hawkish government for “trying to take political advantage of the security issue” ahead of the April 13 general election. Pyongyang went so far as to wage propaganda war to fuel internal division in the South.
The Kaesong industrial park was an icon of the Sunshine Policy ardently pursued by the Kim Dae-jung administration. Considering the symbolic meaning of the park, opponents could express different views. But the opposition cannot avoid public outcry if it is bent on attacking the government for “political maneuvering” when the security issue urgently calls for bipartisanship.
If we want to end the North’s repeated provocations, we must first unite. President Park’s address serves the purpose. But the president must also listen to opponents’ voices and embrace them. That constitutes presidential leadership in the face of a national crisis.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 17, Page 30