Posted : 2013-01-11 16:54
Updated : 2013-01-11 16:54

Policy on North Korea

It's time to seek new path of reconciliation

This week, two events involving North Korea occurred amid signs of change in the impoverished country.

One was a visit by a Chinese special envoy to President-elect Park Geun-hye and the other was a trip to the North by a group of Americans led by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. And the results from the two events appear to be positive.

During her meeting with China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun in Seoul Thursday, Park flashed her message of reconciliation, saying, ''Doors will be open for dialogue and cooperation through a 'trust-building process.''' Of course, the country's first female leader made sure that North Korea's nuclear weapons development and additional provocations won't be tolerated.

Upon returning from his four-day trip to Pyongyang Thursday, Richardson said in Beijing that the North seems to have been encouraged by statements made by Park on the need to improve inter-Korean relations. These statements are based on her election pledge to engage with Pyongyang despite its continuing nuclear program and long-range rocket launch last month.

During her campaign, Park distanced herself from outgoing President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line policy toward Pyongyang. Also, her policy on North Korea is a far cry from the Sunshine Policy pursued by previous liberal governments.

She underscores the need for greater engagement, making clear that earlier inter-Korean agreements will be honored and that she is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who took over a year ago following the death of his father. What sets Park apart from President Lee clearly is that she commits herself to separating politics from humanitarian issues.

The inter-Korean relationship has been stalled over the last five years because the incumbent administration stuck to its reciprocal and condition-laden stance. But this was inevitable in some respects, considering Pyongyang's nuclear and missile buildup and the brutal military attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.

But the time has come for the two Koreas to seek a new path of reconciliation and cooperation, given the leadership changes in South and North Korea, the United States and China.

What draws attention, in particular, is whether Seoul will change its position on the sanctions imposed on North Korea in May 2010 in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan in the West Sea. Still, it's too early to say that the South will lift sanctions unilaterally, but Seoul needs to act resolutely in accordance with the progress in inter-Korean dialogue.

The incoming president can consider inviting North Korean delegates to her inauguration ceremony scheduled for Feb. 25 in a surprise conciliatory move. But Park's ‘'trust-building process'' toward North Korea runs the risk of going nowhere even before it is launched, if the Stalinist country conducts its third nuclear test.

In this regard, we once again urge Pyongyang to stop its nuclear and missile brinkmanship immediately and move toward peace for the sake of its starving people.

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