Posted : 2012-08-21 17:56
Updated : 2012-08-21 17:56

Park Geun-hye poised to talk with North Korea

By Kim Young-jin

Conservative presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye appears poised to reengage North Korea if elected, analysts said Tuesday, but her approach with the recalcitrant neighbor remains vague.

Park, nominated by the ruling Saenuri Party the previous day, says building trust is the key to better cross-border relations. To do so, she says she will seek economic projects and provide humanitarian aid regardless of political tensions.

But she also says the North must live up to inter-Korean and international agreements and that Pyongyang’s provocations will be met with severe consequences.

Park’s nomination sets in motion a shift toward engagement with North Korea after polls showed fatigue with President Lee Myung-bak’s hard line, which has failed to yield immediate results. The push to reengage is seen as necessary to combat China’s increasing influence on its impoverished, yet resource-rich ally.

The “alignment policy would entail assuming a tough line against North Korea sometimes and a flexible policy open to negotiations at other times,” Park wrote in Foreign Affairs, where she outlined the plan last year.

Some watchers say, however, Park has failed to answer basic questions concerning her stance. Some question how her government would react if Pyongyang’s authoritarian leaders do not show a desire to build trust or what her “tough line” against provocations entailed. As one analyst put it, “trust is great, but what if there is no trust to build upon?”

Watchers say a litmus test will be how Park handles the current administration’s position that the North should apologize for two deadly provocations in 2010 ahead of deeper interaction. “If she asks for the apologies, what will her administration do if the North ignores the demand?” the analyst said.

It also remains to be seen how the North will react toward Park, who in 2002 held talks in Pyongyang with late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. As the elections have heated up, the North has toughened its rhetoric against conservative figures, chiding Park for being “endowed with a dictator’s spirit” in reference to her father, the late President Park Chung-hee.

Any vagueness, however, may prove more problematic domestically as some experts say Park could reach out through secret, high-level contact at the outset of her administration to plant trust-building seeds.

Meanwhile, liberal candidates have reaffirmed their will to reprise the Sunshine Policy of aid and cooperation that was halted by President Lee Myung-bak. Moon Jae-in, the aide to late President Roh Moo-hyun and presidential frontrunner for the main opposition Democratic United Party has said he would reprise a policy of unconditional engagement pursued by past liberal Presidents ― which was controversial ― and seek a summit with new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Experts here express greater caution about China’s sway over its neighbor, with worries that heightened last week when Jang Song-thaek, a high-ranking aide to Kim, visited Beijing in a bid to shore up economic cooperation.

The sides signed deals to accelerate joint development of economic zones near their border. Beijing has built a road into Rason, one of the zones, giving landlocked Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces access to Rajin, the region’s northern-most port.
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