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‘Next president must open dialogue with North’

Apr 01,2017
The next president must lead a new Pyongyang policy built upon bipartisan participation and dialogue with the people, said Hong Seok-hyun, the former chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC, in a lecture at Seoul National University on Wednesday.

“The leader of the next administration has to lead a new policy toward North Korea,” said Hong at the lecture hosted by the SNU’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, “through discussion and compromise that involves discourse of the people, with the participation of progressives and conservatives, as well as the ruling and opposition parties.”

He also said it is important for Seoul to establish a North Korea policy that follows set principles regardless of changes in administration, like former German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy toward the East, or Ostpolitik.

“The Sunshine Policy, which lasted for 10 years since the Kim Dae-jung administration, and the policy of pressure, which lasted for nine years following the Lee Myung-bak administration, were not able to block North Korea’s development of its nuclear program nor bring about its collapse,” said the former ambassador to the United States.

He emphasized a new North Korea policy should “enable consultations between the North and South regardless of the change of government, to head toward coexistence and co-prosperity as well as peace and unification.”

Hong pointed out that leading presidential candidates currently “are making no mention of unification,” adding that a new leader “has to establish South Korea’s own independent North Korea policy.”

He said, “In the perspective of the international community, we are, at this point in time, at the greatest risk of an outbreak of war since the Korean War [1950-53].”

Hong added, “Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, which possesses nuclear capabilities, is completely different from Kim Jong-il’s North Korea which had pushed for nuclear capabilities. That is why the strong continuance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance is extremely important.”

He went on to say that a “thorough security posture has to be set as a prerequisite” for the issue of North-South exchange and cooperation to be discussed.

Hong, who has been a strong proponent for continued inter-Korean exchange and cooperation, underscored that halting such communication will decrease the likelihood of being able to bring about a change in Pyongyang’s ways.

“Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a goal that we of course have to pursue fiercely,” he said. “At the same time, so long as we do not give up on unification, it remains our task not to give up on our efforts to bring about a change in Pyongyang through inter-Korean contact.”

“If cooperation and exchange between the North and South is halted, China and Russia will just end up playing a bigger role as Pyongyang’s lifeline,” said Hong. “This will bring about the adverse effect of a decrease in South Korea’s influence, while the road to unification will become further away.”

North Korea has been hit by UN Security Council resolutions and member states’ unilateral sanctions following two nuclear tests last year, resulting in a decrease in trade volume between Beijing and Pyongyang. However, North Korea still remains heavily reliant on Beijing, with trade volume with China accounting for 91.3 percent, or some $5.7 billion, of its total trade volume in 2015.

Hong said, “In order to achieve unification, it is important for the international community to recognize North Korea as a temporarily divided part of the South,” adding that for this to happen, “actual instances of inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation have to be accumulated.”

“We have to leave behind plenty of evidence of our efforts that show we perceive North Korea as the same people in order to actively make a move when conditions for unification open up,” he said. “We cannot deal with North Korea solely with a policy of rigid pressure, as if it were a third country.”

In order to advance inter-Korean exchange and cooperation in a situation where Pyongyang continues to develop its nuclear and missile program, Hong proposed conditions, which include exchanges that do not aid the North’s nuclear and missile development and also those that can go in parallel with measures to ease Pyongyang’s threat.

Hong said, “While it can be argued that support of North Korea may help its nuclear and missile development, there is definitely space for cooperation that will minimize such possibilities.”

He added that an ideal time to resume such inter-Korean exchanges would be following negotiations on a nuclear freeze.

Hong also said that while he is opposed to the “unconditional reopening” of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last vestige of an economic cooperation project between the two Koreas which was shut down in February last year, “it is worth working at.”

He went to point out that the 50,000 North Korea workers who had been employed at the Kaesong complex were an “elite group that was exposed to capitalism.

Hong continued, “The implication this may set in the future, when there is unification, could be considerably large, and such influence cannot be ignored.”

He also addressed the qualifications for the next South Korean president and said, “The new leader will have to embody a diplomatic prowess and boldness to face U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other heads of major powers. The next leader will also have to create an economy that enables durable prosperity.”

BY CHA SE-HYEON, YOO JEE-HYE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]