Posted : 2012-08-28 18:10
Updated : 2012-08-28 18:10

Obama, Romney share common ground on Korea

Barack Obama
By Kim Young-jin

Amid a rancorous campaign, U.S. President Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney may find common ground on the Korean peninsula, analysts said Tuesday.

Romney is set to accept the Republican nomination Thursday in Tampa, Fla. at the party’s convention, ratcheting up a campaign in which the gloves have come off on domestic and character issues.

But on the two Koreas, the candidates aren’t likely to outwardly show sharp differences, analysts said, due to bipartisan support for a tough line on North Korea, sustaining a robust alliance and an emphasis on Asia.

Mitt Romney
Obama took office in 2009 with a pledge to talk with isolated regimes such as the North. Pyongyang responded with a nuclear test that year and deadly provocations on the South a year later that prompted Washington to bolster ties with Seoul, which under President Lee Myung-bak had implemented a tough reciprocity-based policy.

While tightening sanctions, Obama reached a food-for-denuclearization deal in February that was seen as a litmus test of the North’s intentions. That was scuttled by Pyongyang’s long-range rocket launch in April that significantly diminished any appetite in Washington for dealing with the regime.

The Romney campaign says he will institute harsher sanctions on the North including cracking down on financial institutions involved with illegal activities, while making clear that “continued advancement of its nuclear program and any aggression will be punished instead of rewarded,” according to its website.

Romney pledges to lean harder on China to exert influence over its belligerent ally, even broaching the delicate issue of possible North Korean collapse. Romney “will reassure China it will not be alone in dealing with the humanitarian and security issues that will arise should North Korea disintegrate,” the site said.

Analysts say the U.S. “pivot” in its security policy toward Asia ­ initiated by Obama and seen as a way to shape China’s rise ­ has enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle. Strong ties with allies Seoul and Tokyo are seen a lynchpin to regional security.

Tough language on the campaign trail, analysts say, is to be expected as candidates seek to prove their security credentials. But actual policy could change as the winner shapes his administration.

“There is a gap between campaign rhetoric and policy implementation that ends up being filtered through personnel selections,” Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. In particular, shuffling of top State Department positions could affect relevant policy.

Analysts add that changes in other areas could indirectly impact Korea. Alterations in domestic policy including austerity measures could affect the U.S. economy and possibly impact bilateral trade, they said.

Either administration will have to recalibrate to account for a leadership change in Seoul, which will hold its own election in December. Park Geun-hye, the nominee for the ruling Saenuri Party, as well as opposition candidates have expressed willingness to engage the North following public fatigue with Lee’s realpolitik approach and as China increases influence over its ally.
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