New administration's North approach to be based on 'mutual reciprocity'
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol plans to approach North Korea on the basis of "mutual reciprocity," tying sanctions relief and revival of inter-Korean cooperation to the North's denuclearization, according to an official on the presidential transition team Wednesday.
The comments come as the transition team spokesman officially announced the same day that Yoon does not plan to abolish the Unification Ministry, but intends to restore what the transition spokesman called its “proper function.”
The official commenting on Yoon's North Korea policy, who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on the condition of anonymity, said that Yoon’s stance essentially precludes the easing of sanctions on Pyongyang and the return of inter-Korean engagement and cooperation should the North fail to make concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
“The current administration has tried to induce the North to denuclearize through many different policies, but all have failed,” the transition team official said. “Without progress on denuclearization, there will no carrots provided [to the North].”
The description of Yoon’s basic strategy vis-à-vis the recalcitrant regime marks a change from the policies of his predecessor, outgoing President Moon Jae-in, who sought security guarantees for Pyongyang and an end-of-war declaration formally terminating the official state of war on the Korean Peninsula to induce the regime to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
However, the official did not rule out aid for the North should it fulfill certain conditions. “Our basic stance is that we will provide practical assistance to the North if denuclearization occurs,” the official said.
According to the official, it is now likely that Moon’s goal of an end-of-war declaration before he leaves office will not come to fruition, given Yoon’s belief that the declaration was pursued without proper public communication or basis in the reality of the Korean Peninsula.
Yoon adopted a harsher view of how to deal with nuclear-armed North Korea on the campaign trail, saying that he believed Seoul should adopt a posture of “peace through strength” to deter provocations by Pyongyang.
Yoon is also likely to take a harder stance on the North’s human rights abuses — a field where the Moon administration has largely avoided joining international condemnation.
“[The president-elect] will not remain silent on North Korean residents’ suffering and human rights abuses for the sake of dialogue with the North,” the transition team official said. “We will adopt a policy regarding North Korea’s human rights abuses that is on the same level as that of the United States, the United Nations and the international community.”
During his campaign, Yoon emphasized that he would pursue a “North Korea policy with principles centered on the South Korea-U.S. alliance,” suggesting he will make sure the allies are in lockstep in their approach to the North.
The comments came the same day that the transition team officially said it would not abolish the Unification Ministry, the government department tasked with handling relations with North Korea, but that Yoon plans to “restore its proper function.”
The Unification Ministry has been mentioned as one of the ministries that could be abolished under the incoming administration’s bureaucratic reorganization plan, along with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
“There will be no abolition of the Unification Ministry,” Won Il-hee, chief deputy spokesman of the transition team, said during a press briefing. “The transition team will look into detailed measures to restore the proper function of the Unification Ministry.”
Won said members of the transition team have expressed doubts about whether the Unification Ministry has fulfilled its basic duty to promote inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation and provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea.
He also said the incoming government wants to depart from the approach of the current administration under which the presidential office has taken the lead on inter-Korean issues and the Unification Ministry has executed its plans.
“Transition team members said they will come up with measures to bolster the ministry under the Yoon administration,” Won said.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]