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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Herald on Feb. 18)

2016/02/18 07:16

Ambiguous stance

: President should review divisions among citizens

The Gaeseong complex incident has created another split in public opinion over state policy, following the Education Ministry’s plan to publish uniform national history textbooks and the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s deal with Tokyo on sex slavery victims during World War II.

If a dominant percentage of citizens had supported the government’s closure of the inter-Korean industrial park, there would have been little need for President Park Geun-hye to deliver a speech at the National Assembly.

Her choice to communicate directly with the public was 100 percent appropriate, as most citizens appeared embarrassed by the South’s retaliatory action. Citizens wanted know what the president’s next step would be amid escalating tensions on the peninsula.

Though Park vowed to shift the government’s position to a tougher line against Pyongyang, her speech was somewhat full of denials of the allegation from critics that the shutdown has low-key political intentions domestically.

Park also defended Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, who has faced public denouncement for going back on his remarks on the reasons for the complex closure. Hong earlier argued that the wages for North Korean workers were exploited by the Kim Jong-un regime as a funding tool to develop weapons, but then later stepped back from his earlier position that the government had evidence to prove the allegation.

The president backed up Hong’s earlier assertion despite this admission. She said about 600 billion won ($500 million) in cash had been paid so far to the North, most of which was delivered to the communist leadership and used for arms development.

The president and minister’s remarks have created the argument that Seoul might have breached U.N. resolutions banning its members from providing -- or ignoring -- funding channels to Pyongyang for nuclear weapons development.

If the government had evidence that Pyongyang was exploiting funds in this way, the complex should have been shut down immediately. At least, the government should have closely scrutinized the case as to whether it was a violation of the international accord.

The Park government, as well as the former Lee Myung-bak administration, tolerated the park’s operation despite a series of provocations of the North. Her “tough stance as a policy shift from the upper ceiling of patience” may be convincing to citizens.

If so, the measures to turn up the heat on Pyongyang should be concrete. For example, Park should have issued a warning to the Kim regime that next time there could be a military countermeasure. As she clarified that the government would no longer seek to resolve issues regarding the North in a peaceful manner via bilateral talks, it is logical to say that Seoul would not rule out military strikes if necessary. The discontinuation of the inter-Korean business park means no further economic relations, only military confrontation, as was the case during the Cold War.

If military confrontation is not an option for the government despite the tough position, the public will question how the government will block the North from conducting nuclear tests and carrying out more provocations.

Quite a few pundits say the division in South Korean public opinion is slowly having more serious effects on society, apart from the young communist dictator’s threat. The government needs to contemplate the idea of some observers that it is the government that is causing this divide. Park also expressed concerns over the divisions in South Korea during her parliamentary speech.