Shift in N.Korea Policy Needs Careful Preparation

      December 28, 2010 11:35

      The government is shifting the emphasis of North Korea policy from exchanges and cooperation to fully fledged preparations for reunification beginning in 2011. "Next year, we intend to concentrate our efforts on strengthening our reunification capabilities rather than on dialogue with the North," a Unification Ministry official said. It is apparently looking to influence ordinary North Koreans to bring about changes in the Stalinist country. "We must free ourselves from the perception that reunification by absorption is unfeasible," he added.

      In the wake of the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, President Lee Myung-bak said "I feel reunification is now not far off," and his government is "closely watching changes taking place among the North Korean public." On Monday, he said the North "misjudged" South Korea's "perseverance and aspiration for peace." This is the background of the new policy that is to replace the inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation that were the doctrine under the last two administrations.

      The North has kept developing nuclear bombs and missiles while taking money given by South Korea. In addition to torpedoing the Navy corvette Cheonan and bombarding Yeonpyeong Island this year, the North threatened "a sacred war" using nuclear weapons. South Koreans have had enough and want a fundamental solution.

      But if the government is to shift the direction of North Korea policy, it must think hard what its aims are and make very careful preparation. It must work out not only specific plans in minute detail but also ways to deal with reactions from North Korea as well as the United States, China and Japan, to say nothing of opposition at home. It needs to weigh the effects and counter-effects of the new policy while preparing for any North Korean provocations it may prompt.

      The biggest problem is China. Beijing in principle supports the reunification of the two Koreas, provided that they agree on it peacefully. But if the South starts announcing specific steps towards reunification starting next year, China could be tempted to reveal its real intentions. Given growing U.S.-China competition in Northeast Asia and the current South Korea-China relationship, which is founded on business alone and lacks common diplomatic and strategic aims, the chances are that China will oppose the new doctrine and strengthen its support of the crumbling North Korean regime. A cool-headed judgment is needed whether this is a good time to call Beijing's bluff.

      While Germany was divided, West German politicians refrained from mentioning reunification to avoid provoking the Soviet Union and prevent it from blocking reunification when the time was right. In diplomacy there are some issues where principles should be clearly stated and some where it is better to keep them ambiguous. The government must study all the implications and concerns that would arise from a shift in policy and ensure that it is absolutely confident of being able to deal with them.  

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