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2009/01/29 14:36 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 39 (January 29, 2009)

   *** OPINION FROM EXPERTS

North Korea Should Abstain from Denouncing President Lee Myung-bak

By Kim Geun-sik (Professor of Kyungnam University in South Korea)

Inter-Korean relations, brittle throughout 2008, are anticipated to remain uneasy in 2009 also. While some analysts view this as a mere continuation of long-running tension in relations and pessimistically believe the worst is yet to come, others, concerned at what they see as an aberration from an overall trend towards reconciliation, maintain hope that relations can be normalized.

   Yet irrespective of such debates, the bigger problem is the view that the initiative for breakthrough of the blockage in South-North Korean relation should be found externally rather between the two countries themselves. Both South and North Korea have adopted the position that only external change, namely the inauguration of Obama and subsequent change of U.S. administration can prompt progress in inter-Korean relations.

   Needless to say, South-North relations can be positively affected by external forces, namely an advance in North-U.S. relations and resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. If such an environment is constructed we must take advantage of this advance. However, the South and North must still try to solve problems for themselves instead of passively waiting for an external change, because South and North suffer a greater disadvantage due to the long-term blockage of South-North relation than anyone else.

   Indeed, the suspension of South-North relations is a burden to South Korea's government. Notwithstanding the official position of President Lee Myung-bak government to wait resolutely, the long-term blockage of South-North relations causes direct tension and economic risk on the Korea Peninsula. In the imminent situation where an economic crisis should be overcome, the suspension of South-North relations and North Korea's sabre-rattling to the South inevitably affect the Korean economy adversely. Any possible military provocation of North Korea will lead to negative results in external creditworthiness and investment of foreign capital.

   In addition to aggravating the economic instability of South Korea, the suspension of South-North relations is also disadvantageous to the Lee Myung-bak government in that our initiative power over the issues facing the Korean Peninsula is weakened in the diplomatic dimension. Unless two Koreas acquire an independent channel of communication in the situation where North-U.S. negotiation is in progress after inauguration of Obama executive, there is the threat that South Korea will be sidelined amid bilateral negotiations between the North and U.S., as in the period of Kim Young-sam government.

   Particularly if two Koreas maintain focus solely on their relations with the U.S., while their critical issues -- denuclearization of the North, normalization of North and U.S. relations and the system of peace -- are discussed between the North and U.S., the discussion will be inevitably incomplete. The severance of South-North relations results in even greater damage and disadvantage to North Korea. It has to suffer actual and physical loss as the food and economic support provided by South is suspended.

   In the New Year editorial of this year, North Korea emphasized that it will complete a push to gain self sufficiency in food; a statement which demonstrates its difficulty in providing food due to the severance of South-North relations. The blockage of cash support caused by the suspension of tours to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesung is another pain for North Korea. Given the political situation in North Korea, which has vowed to become a great, prosperous and powerful country in 2012, the immediate and visible economic loss is obvious if economic benefit supported by South is suspended for long time.

   Further, the suspension of South-North relations leaves an unfavorable environment for North-U.S. negotiations to be held later. The strategy of so-called 'Tongmi Bongnam' -- the situation whereby North Korea communicates with the U.S. and sidelines South Korea -- is possible only in the intention of North Korea and thus it is impossible in reality. Indeed, aggravated South-North relations adversely affect North Korea instead of the U.S. in the Pyongyang-Washington negotiation. Past experiences showed the North-U.S. negotiations were facilitated when South-North relations were in progress. Conversely, the blockage in South-North relations served an obstacle to North-U.S. negotiations. As President Obama has explicitly stated that progress in South-North relations is the desirable direction of the political situation on the Korean Peninsula in an article he wrote as a candidate, the suspension of South-North relations due to Tongmi Bongnam will make negotiations with the U.S. more difficult, even if North Korea desires smooth progress.

   Considering the disadvantage and loss that both South and North inevitably suffer due to suspension of relations, it is wise to break through the present blockage through firm initiative. As the Lee Myung-bak government already emphasized repeatedly that it is willing to discuss the implementation of agreements signed in the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean summit, it needs to avoid obscure utterances that North Korea can misunderstand and to explicitly express its intention to carry them out.

   The South is more positive in its effort to restore relations. North Korea constantly denounces the North Korea policy of the Lee Myung-bak government and the president himself by name. This directly violates the spirit of mutual respect specified in two declarations which are often asserted by the North. Even the side which supports ethnic reconciliation and cooperation as well as progress of South-North relation agrees that the denunciation in real name by North Korea only aggravates the problem without giving any solution. North Korea has to suspend personal attacks if it is to demand South Korea fulfill the declarations.

   One year has been long enough for the South and North to nervously stand face to face. Instead of passively waiting for the variable of U.S. policy decisions, South and North Korea need to wisely and judiciously prepare for a breakthrough via mutual effort.

  (END)