North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year's address on Tuesday that the two Koreas should resolve their "confrontational" relationship and end the state of division. "What's important in ending national division and achieving reunification is to remove confrontation between the North and the South," Kim said. "All Korean compatriots in the North, South and abroad should launch a dynamic struggle to carry out to the letter the June 5 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4 Declaration."
The two declarations were signed by the two progressive governments in Seoul during the ill-fated "sunshine" policy. Just as the North called on then president-elect Lee Myung-bak five years ago, it is now pressing president-elect Park Geun-hye to live up to the pacts signed with the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
In an interview in November of last year, just a month before the presidential election, Park said an apology by the North for its sinking of South Korea's Navy corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was not a precondition for dialogue with the South. "Dialogue is necessary to even discuss the issue," she said. And in a keynote speech at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in February of last year, she said the "vicious cycle of distrust" between Seoul and Pyongyang must be transformed into a "virtuous cycle of trust." She added that agreements signed by the two Koreas must be fundamentally respected.
Park tows a different line to Lee when it comes to the sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong. Lee pursued a strategy of containment by asking an apology from the North if any inter-Korean summit was to be held. But Park feels confidence-building steps could result in Seoul honoring the June 15 and Oct. 4 declarations. But things may not go as smoothly as Park hopes.
When he ran for his first term in November 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff through dialogue. But in April 2009, just four months after his inauguration, the North fired a rocket and a month later conducted its second nuclear test. That made it impossible for Obama to pursue dialogue even if he wanted to.
When it launched its rocket on Dec. 12 last year, in what is widely believed to be a cover to test long-range missile technology, North Korea said the event chiefly aimed to honor the first anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il. If it conducts a third nuclear test under any excuse of that sort, Park's plans could be scrapped without even being put to the test.
The year 2013 sees the start of a new leadership in China and Obama buoyed by his re-election. It could be the start of a new phase in tackling the problems facing the Korean peninsula, but everything depends on North Korea's sincerity.