In light of recent events, Park Jae Kyu, former ROK Minister of Unification, offered a unique perspective and various explanations for the change in relations between North and South Korea. In major diplomatic arenas, such as the Olympics, the world has witnessed their outward behavior change from arriving together at the 2004 Olympics, to arriving separately at this years Beijing Olympics. Even more recently, the world received news of a Northern Korean officer who killed a South Korean tourist. While these are all outward facts, Park Jae Kyu provided a more insightful analysis of the ever changing relationship between the two countries.
According to Park, previous presidents Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun, both engaged in inter-Korean relations with Northern Korea through initiatives such as the “Engagement (Sunshine)” and “Peace and Prosperity” policies (respectively). This cooperation fostered stronger relationships, tourism and trade growth, as well as the first and second inter-Korean summits (on June 15, 2000 and October 4th 2007, respectively). These summits marked an outward acknowledgment of the two countries mutual cooperation, and a landmark in North and South Korean history.
Unfortunately, this cooperation reached a road block in early 2008, when Lee Myung Bak was elected as President of the Republic of Korea. He is the first conservative president to lead the country in over ten years, and his policy reform reflected this standpoint. According to Park, Lee attempted to maintain similar policies as Kim and Rho, however Lee also wanted to build upon them and update many aspects he deemed faulty. One of his changes included a closer relationship with US policy, and thus the adaptation to denuclearize North Korea. Lee also released a joint statement with President Bush denouncing North Korea’s human rights violations. Lee attempted to soften his statements, claiming that inter-cooperation would promptly re-emerge with the denuclearization of the North. Lee titled his new policy towards the north as “Mutual Benefit and Common Prosperity’. Throughout all of the new commotion, North Korea still expected the ROK government to carry out policies based on the June 15, 2000 North-South joint declaration. However, when the Lee administration failed to do so, and seemingly ignored both the 2000 and 2007 joint-declarations, Pyongyang and his administration vehemently denounced Lee’s policies, reducing his presidency to a mere “messenger boy for American’s nuclear war (Park, 9.8.08).” This marked the absolute collapse of cooperation.
Shortly following the collapse, On March 27th Pyongyang’s administration expelled high level South Korean officials. Park notes that due to this collapse, the economic headway achieved through the joint-policies are at risk. The food shortage is at full swing in the North, and projects to repair the Kaesong-Shinuiju and Kaesong-Pyongyang expressways and railroads are at a stand still.
Recently there has been limited progress as the Six-Party talks were resumed shortly before the Beijing Olympics. However, North Korea has ceased any denuclearization efforts, and thus the current situation is at a stand still, much like before the Olympics. Yet Park remains optimistic, believing a solution to the current stall will be found as both economies somewhat depend upon each other.
Sponsor: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Date: September 8, 2008
Representative: Daria Willis