'Inter-Korean summit in 2014,' ex-unification minister suggests
Park Jae-kyu, president of Kyungnam University and a former unification minister, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at the university’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, Monday.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Chung Min-uck
Park Jae-kyu, 68, president of Kyungnam University and former unification minister, advised the upcoming administration of Park Geun-hye to adopt a “gradual step-by-step” approach to improving relations between the two Koreas.
The North Korean expert, in an interview with The Korea Times, Monday, cautioned that a sudden shift from the current hard-line North Korea policy could produce “misunderstanding among her conservative supporters in the South.” This would lead to a time-consuming ideological debate that would hamper the president-elect’s shift toward a softer policy of engagement, he said.
“An inter-Korean summit should take place in the second year of the President-elect’s term in office,” said Park. “Providing certain humanitarian aid and allowing some forms of non-governmental exchanges and cooperation with the North could prove to be effective first steps toward improving ties.”
The former minister of unification also stressed “mutual trust” as a crucial element toward restoring the relationship.
The word “trust” is a key term in the President-elect’s North Korea policy.
Dubbed “trustpolitik,” her strategy calls for Pyongyang to live up to former promises made during dialogue between the leaders of the two Koreas.
“To build trust . . . dialogue must be restarted between the two Koreas,” the former minister said. “Through dialogue and subsequent efforts, trust can be restored.”
The veteran scholar also highly credited the President-elect’s experience including her 2002 trip to Pyongyang where she met privately with Kim Jong-il, the former North Korean leader and father of the incumbent head of state, Kim Jong-un.
“The experience might give her more insight into the dynamics of the situation in the North,” Park said.
Touching on the six-party talks, the Kyungnam University president said Seoul should play a proactive role, when the talks resume, so as to induce Washington and Beijing, two key stakeholders in resolving North Korean issues, to be on the same page regarding denuclearization of the North.
The United Nations Security Council’s recent move toward approving a resolution that would impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang following its latest long-range rocket launch last week is currently at an impasse due to China’s refusal.
The current Lee Myung-bak administration has maintained a hard-line policy since his inauguration in 2008. A deadly attack against the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010 led to the May 24 measures from the Lee administration which banned almost all cross-border cooperation except for production at the Gaesong Industrial Complex.
“The new administration in Seoul will have to deal with the sensitive and complicated issues involving recent incidents with North Korea,” Park said. “Solutions should be made on the removal of the May 24 measures, on the restoration of Mt. Geumgang tours, and on the resolution of the Cheonan incident. . . . resolving these issues will require greater flexibility than the approach suggested by the President-elect during her campaign.”
The following are excerpts from the interview with Park ― ED.
Q: What is your general outlook for inter-Korean relations under the new Park Geun-hye government?
A: The current stalemate and confrontational inter-Korean relations cannot be left as they are. President-elect Park Geun-hye has said she will ease the current hard-line policy. Throughout her campaign, the president-elect continuously stressed, first and foremost, the imperative of restoring mutual trust between the South and North in order to move forward and improve inter-Korean relations. Indeed, mutual trust is a crucial element. To build mutual trust, both parties must acknowledge the other as a partner for dialogue and cooperation. First, dialogue must be restarted between the two countries. Through dialogue and subsequent efforts, trust can be restored. Once it is, inter-Korean summit talks could take place.
Q: When is the right time for an inter-Korean summit?
A: An inter-Korean summit should take place during the second year of Park Geun-hye’s term in office. A gradual, step-by-step approach should be taken to improve inter-Korean relations. For South Korea, providing certain humanitarian aid and allowing some forms of non-governmental exchanges and cooperation with the North could prove effective first steps to improving relations. However, a sudden shift from the current hard-line North Korea policy could cause misunderstanding among her conservative supporters here. This could lead to a time-consuming ideological debate that would hamper Park’s shift toward a softer policy of engagement.
Q: Do you think Park Geun-hye has the qualities to improve ties with the North?
A: I think that the president-elect understands North Korea perhaps a bit better than other leaders. During her 2002 trip to Pyongyang she met privately with former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Her experience might give her more insight into the dynamics of the North Korean situation.
Q: What about North Korea. Is Kim Jong-un ready to engage with the South?
A: North Korea also understands that a new government in South Korea means change. North Korean media criticized the South Korean president-elect during her election campaign. However, North Korea reported the results of the South Korean election in a speedier-than-expected manner, signaling in a way that they, too, are looking to end the current hostility and impasse in inter-Korean relations. Both sides want to improve relations, so I believe it will only be a matter of time before talks between the two Koreas resume.
Q: What kind of hardship would the new administration face in dealing with the North?
A: The new administration will have to deal with the sensitive and complicated issues involving recent incidences with North Korea. For example, solutions will need to be reached on the removal of the May 24 measures, on the restoration of Mt. Geumgang tours, and on the resolution of the Cheonan incident, among other issues. Resolving these issues would require greater flexibility than the approach suggested by the president-elect during her campaign. Exercising flexibility will be important.
Q: What do you think about prospects of a resumption of the six-party talks?
A: It is difficult to expect that six-party talks could resume any time soon. The reality is that the nuclear issue has become much more complicated. The North has conducted two nuclear tests and wants to be recognized as a nuclear state. It can be anticipated that North Korea will utilize this as a bargaining chip in the future. At the moment, the major parties to the six-party talks are divided over what to do. In recent U.N. Security Council consultations concerning the latest rocket launch, the U.S. expressed its reluctance to resume talks immediately with North Korea, including the six-party talks. South Korea has stressed North Korea’s improved measures on denuclearization as a precondition to the six-party talks. North Korea has also not shown sufficient readiness to return to the multilateral dialogue. South Korea, China, and the U.S. will likely work together and try to resume the six-party talks. Nevertheless, even if the parties succeed in persuading North Korea to return to the multilateral negotiation table, considerable time will be needed before we can expect to see any significant positive results.
Q: What role can South Korea play when the six-party talks resume?
A: Seoul should play a proactive role in inducing Washington and Beijing to be cooperative in denuclearizing the North.
Q: Some argue that following the launch of the new conservative government in Japan the relationship between Korea and Japan would worsen. What should be done in order to improve the strained relations between the two countries?
A: Indeed, the incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did express some strong conservative views during his election campaign, including on the Dokdo islets issue. However, I anticipate that his administration will soften its stance and pursue more moderate policies. Already the prime minister-elect has stated his intention to send a special envoy to Seoul to deliver a letter to President-elect Park Geun-hye to propose summit talks. Media reports also stated that his party is rethinking its controversial campaign pledges on the Dokdo issue. I think we can expect the new administration in Japan to seek to make improvements in its diplomacy with its neighbors, especially South Korea. President-elect Park has also stated that she will “try to expand peace, reconciliation, and cooperation in Northeast Asia based on a ‘correct perception of history’.” So I expect that South Korea and Japan will work harder together in the near future to minimize their differences and work toward fostering better relations.
Q: There are growing voices that diplomacy with China should be strengthened, as it is South Korea’s largest trading partner. However, some think that closer relations with China could conflict with the Asia policy of the United States. How can South Korea maintain its current alliance with the United States and strengthen diplomatic relations with China at the same time?
A: This is the perennial dilemma of South Korea. So how can we address this dilemma? One thing seems clear. If inter-Korean relations deteriorate, this dilemma will be exacerbated. Therefore improving relations with North Korea should be considered as a primary means for South Korea to work itself out of this dilemma. This is important for not only the future of South Korea but for the peace and prosperity, the cooperation and formation of solidarity in Northeast Asia. So to address this perennial dilemma, South Korea must increase its diplomatic efforts to promote balanced strategic partnership with both the United States and China, but do so by striving to improve inter-Korean relations significantly.
Who is Park Jae-kyu?
Born in Masan, South Gyeongsang Province, in 1944, Park Jae-kyu, president of Kyungnam University, is one of the most respected scholars on North Korea.
He started his professional career as a professor at Kyungnam University in 1973 and built his expertise on North Korean studies. He went on to serve as minister of unification from December 1999 to March 2001 under the liberal Kim Dae-jung administration. During his term, Park played a crucial role in holding the first inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in 2000, serving as chairman of the organizing committee for the summit.
He has visited the reclusive regime many times as a scholar and as a ranking government official, and is a rare South Korean to have met and talked with the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il three times.
He has served as president of Kyungnam University since 2003 and also holds a governmental position as presidential advisor on unification affairs.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1967 from Fairleigh Dickinson University in the United States and masters and doctor’s degree in the same subject from City University of New York in 1969 and Kyung-Hee University in Seoul in 1974, respectively.
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