Alliance and North Korea
By Tong Kim
Despite the appearance of a stumbling start ― suffering a moral damage from the impropriety of some cabinet nominees, the new government of President Lee Myung-bak is getting settled to undertake its promised challenge of ``serving the people" and building "a first class advanced country." And the whole nation is watching how he will rise to the occasion.
Perhaps the two most important things for any president are to protect the safety of the people and the country from harm, foreign or domestic, and to provide an enhanced equitable well-being for the people. In short a president's job is to ensure that the people can live well in peace.
The Korean people have confidence in President Lee's ability and interest to help turn around the economy even at a time when oil prices are souring up and the other external economic conditions ― including the collapse of the housing market in the United States ― are unfavorable to the Korean economy.
Sleeping only five hours a day, the ex-CEO president seems to adopt a "spoke management style" that skips a cumbersome layer of middle managers to get directly to the line supervisors in all departments. MB (initials for Myung-bak as he often is referred to) has already demonstrated his energy and dedication to his responsibility.
His leadership style resembles that of former president Park Chung-hee, who is credited to have built an industrial Korea from the rubbles of war. A well-respected, Washington- based Korea expert suggested a hereditary leadership linkage from Park Chung-hee to Chung Ju-yung, a legendary founder of the Hyundai Group, to Lee Myung-bak.
Like Park and Chung, MB is a doer, with the nickname of a "Bulldozer." However, energy and enthusiasm alone are not enough to resolve complex issues of the modern times. Sleeping fewer hours does not necessarily translate into an increased productivity.
It is fortunate for Korea to have Han Seung-soo as its prime minister, a 71 year old, the oldest in the MB administration who served in several top positions in government including deputy prime minister for economic planning, Blue House chief of staff, ambassador to Washington, foreign minister and a two-term national lawmaker under different administrations.
His wisdom from experience and expertise will certainly contribute to the balancing of competing forces in the MB government that are more likely than not to emerge as they debate policy options in the days ahead. His main role should not be focused on carrying out energy diplomacy as it has been reported. Supply of energy is a function of the market, rather than that of diplomacy. He is a perfect prime minister to help implement MB's economic policy.
On the national security front, there are some concerns about MB's policy. Two weeks into the new government, Pyongyang broke the silence. Pyongyang called the new government "the south Korean conservative ruling forces" instead of the South Korean authorities, in a suspected attempt to separate the government from the non-conservative populace.
Through the KCNA, the DPRK's official news outlet for foreign audiences, North Korea testily reacted to South Korea's "urging the North to take proper measure for its human rights situation" with a claim that the MB's new policy on the human rights issue violates the June 15 joint inter-Korean statement and the October 4 summit agreement. The DPRK representative at the UN Human Rights Council meeting last week warned that the South should be responsible for the "grave consequence of its position."
At the same time, Pyongyang through several channels of its state-run media vehemently protested against the annual combined exercises ― "Key Resolve" and "Foal Eagle." Although Pyongyang's reaction to the military exercises is sharper than last year, this was a routine ritual by the North.
What draws more attention is a critical analysis by the Chosun Shinbo, a pro-North Korean organ in Japan, of the MB design of "Denuclearization and Opening 3000" ― a policy platform that promises a massive economic aid to increase the DPRK's per capita income to $3,000 in 10 years, once the North gives up its nuclear programs. While carrying less weight than the official channels, The Chosun Shinbo undoubtedly speaks for Pyongyang.
According to the newspaper, the MB design is "unrealistic and unilateral as it attaches the preconditions of nuclear abandonment first and opening." The paper said this policy sounds like going back to the days of Kim Young Sam. As for "opening," it said the policy designers knows too little about North Korea, adding that the North will open its door five years later, when the MB government will leave.
Yet, Pyongyang seems to be still waiting for a more concrete or more realistic North Korean policy from the new government. The reports that the North contacted the South to arrange a meeting with MB's people before his inauguration or to get invited to attend the inauguration should be seen as a sign of Pyongyang's continuing interest in doing business with the MB government.
While the nuclear issue is currently at stalemate, President Bush made it clear that he is "not going to have a personal relationship with Kim Jong Il" after he said, "it's important to establish personal relations with leaders even though you may not agree with them..." but not with the North Korean leader with whom it is "impossible" to do so.
At another conference Bush also said he is "focusing on protecting America and succeeding in Iraq and in dealing with North Korea" and other security issues "so that when (his hopeful successor) John McCain is the president, he can deal with these issues in a way that yields peace."
From these statements, it is not clear whether Bush thinks he can finish North Korea's denuclearization. But it is clear his loathe of Kim Jong-il in "a visceral reaction" has not changed.
Good news for President Lee is President Bush will meet him at Camp David when he visits Washington next month. MB will be the first Korean president to visit Camp David, a significant message that the United States is welcoming a democratically elected conservative pro-American Korean President and values the traditional ties and recognizes South Korea's growing role as a U.S ally.
In addition to a summit with Bush, MB reportedly will address a joint session of Congress, to meet with business leaders through the Chamber of Commerce, and a group of Korean War veterans. During President Lee's visit here, it will be one good thing to work on a shared vision for the alliance. The role of the alliance may transform depending on the assessment of a long-term security environment on the Korean Peninsula and the region.
On the other hand the MB government should develop a more proactive North Korean policy that will realistically contribute to the resolution of the nuclear issues in coordination with the United States and other parties in the process. What's your take?
Tong Kim is former senior interpreter at the U.S. State Department and now a research professor with Ilmin Institute of International Relations at Korea University and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He can be reached at email@example.com