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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 243 (January 3, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

New Seoul Gov't Will Likely Seek N. Korean Policy Based on Trust and Balance

South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye's incoming government faces a tough road ahead to resolve a number of troublesome North Korea issues amid deadlocked inter-Korean relations.

   Essentially, Park prioritizes North Korea's denuclearization to mend ties with the South. She has repeatedly vowed to seek improved ties with the North without compromising the South's national security or sovereignty.

   North Korea's denuclearization is a key word for Park's North Korea policy, though detailed plans have not officially been made known. Over and over again, Park has promised her administration will push ahead with massive economic cooperation projects toward helping the impoverished North Korea with a policy called "Vision Korea Project" if the two Koreas build up trust and if there is substantial progress in the North's denuclearization.

   The president-elect herself calls all these procedures for improving inter-Korean relations the "Korean Peninsula Trust Process." Park also emphasizes the need for a balanced policy toward Pyongyang, somewhere between the outgoing government's tough policy and previous liberal governments' engagement policy.

   She has the notion that although Lee's hard-line stance against North Korea is widely seen as unsuccessful, the "sunshine policy" by previous liberal presidents also failed to persuade the North to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

   The president-elect says full-scale economic cooperation with the North is possible only after Pyongyang takes serious steps toward ending its nuclear programs and sufficient "trust" is built up between the sides -- an indication that she prefers a measured reconciliation and opposes unconditional aid to buy what she calls "fake peace."

   The first South Korean woman elected to the five-year presidency has also pledged to depart from outgoing President Lee's hard-line North Korea policy, in which the Seoul government has refused to engage with the North without the socialist country's apologies for the deadly 2010 attacks on the South Korean Navy vessel Cheonan and the border island of Yeonpyeong.

   Park has said she is willing to hold a summit with the North if necessary for the peace on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. "Talks (with the North) require no preconditions, and I can meet with (North leader) Kim Jong-un if that can help improve inter-Korean relations," Park said during her election campaign, underlining her willingness to resume ties with the North.

   Park's ambitions also include installing liaison offices between Seoul and Pyongyang, investing in the North's special economic zones, and strengthening joint economic and resources development projects with the North.

   Separate from political issues, the new government will also seek humanitarian assistance, a reunion of separated families between the divided Koreas, and the repatriation of prisoners of war captured during the 1950-53 Korean War and abducted South Koreans after the war.

   The plan also details constructing infrastructure in North Korea such as electricity, transportation and telecommunications, Seoul's support for North Korea's admittance to international financial organizations. It also calls for Seoul's cooperation for the North's inducement of foreign investment, and South Korea's advance into the North's economic special zones such as Rason and Hwanggumphyong, and the increased economic cooperation for North Korea among neighboring countries, including China and Russia.

   The new South Korean government will go ahead with the efforts to improve North Korea's dismal human rights through international coordination. North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps a tight control over information reaching the outside world.

   Park's new government will likely abide by the previous basic agreements reached between the two Koreas. The outgoing Lee administration has not shown its willingness to fulfill the inter-Korean accords due to the North's belligerent behavior.

   The North has demanded the president-elect clarify her position on two joint declarations adopted by her liberal predecessors -- Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun -- during their 2000 and 2007 summit meetings with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The declarations call on the two Koreas to actively pursue cooperation in a wide range of fields such as the economy, politics and culture.

   Analysts say, however, Park's election promise to mend fences with North Korea will likely spur an optimistic mood for a turnaround in the frozen inter-Korean relations, but others hold the view that the two Koreas may take some time before resolving long-standing issues.

   Experts say Park's future decisions on whether to maintain punitive bans adopted by the Lee administration on the inter-Korean exchanges and the joint South-North Korean tour program in Mount Kumgang may give the North a good idea of the new government's North Korean policy stance.

   Following the North's sinking of the Cheonan in March 2010, the Lee administration adopted the so-called "May 24 punitive sanctions" two months later and has maintained them ever since, prohibiting aid, and other human and goods trades between the two countries.

   The inter-Korean joint tour program to the North's Mt. Kumgang, one of the key economic cooperation projects between the countries, has also remained suspended, despite the North's continuous calls to resume it, following a shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier in 2008.

   Analysts forecast Park will rush to resume talks with the North as soon as she officially takes office in late February, but inter-Korean relations are likely to remain restrained for quite a while.

   Although Park has vowed to leave behind the Lee administration's no-apology-no-talks stance, the analysts said she will still shy away from engaging with an unregretful North Korea, given her conservative political background inclined to punish, rather than reward, the North.

   "I will depart from the diplomacy between the soft-line and hard-line policies, and pursue a balanced North Korean policy," Park said on the campaign trail, hinting at her more flexible North Korean policy ideas. Park, however, will still not be free to rule out conservatives' demand that the North first show concrete evidence of no future aggression.

   The North's Kim Jong-un regime is also not likely to hurry and accept Park's reconciliatory approach, and instead may try to test the incoming administration in an effort to seize the initiative in future talks with the South, analysts said.

   Seemingly insurmountable issues are also feared to get in the way of recovering inter-Korean relations, with the North's internationally condemned long-range rocket launch in December even more aggravating the international atmosphere to further step up economic sanctions on the socialist country.

   All eyes are now on the North as the outside world speculates about whether the North will go ahead with a nuclear test. Two of Pyongyang's rocket launches, in 2006 and 2009, were followed by tests of nuclear devices in the following months, leading to increased condemnation of the North from the international community. A North Korean nuclear test, if carried out, is predicted to be a major stumbling block jeopardizing Park's reconciliation attempts.

   Despite the tug-of-war game expected in the first stage of fence-mending efforts following Park's inauguration, the North is widely predicted to eventually take advantage of the incoming South's government, which is seen as a chance to change their worst-ever relations with Seoul over the last five years, analysts said. Restoring aid supplies from the South will be one of the major pressing tasks for the foreign currency-squeezed North as the country tries to shore up the livelihoods of its people who are in destitute circumstances, they said.

  (END)
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