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[Editorial] Wise Words From a Veteran Politician

Posted December. 09, 2008 23:34,   


Inter-Korean relations are worsening as North Korea has announced it will suspend tours to the border city of Gaesong and cross-border rail service from Monday. Against this backdrop, Lee Hoi-chang, the chairman of the minor conservative Liberty Forward Party, made an intriguing proposal yesterday. He told the ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party that South Korea must take this opportunity to end past relations and create new ties with North Korea.

"While calmly dealing with the strained relationship, we must let the North show all of its bargaining chips, such as suspension of the Gaesong Industrial Complex, and realize that such behavior does it no good,” he said. “Only when we come to a dead end can we create a new relationship."

Lee’s diagnosis and solution are worth consideration. Inter-Korean relations are distorted and imbalanced because Seoul under two previous administrations has pushed for engagement in the name of the “sunshine policy” without basic principles. Over the past decade, the status of both South and North Korea has changed. The South has been giving much help to the North but did not even protest to Pyongyang when it armed itself with nuclear weapons. Therefore, Seoul needs to start anew from now on.

Lee said the ruling party must be consistent while the opposition should turn this challenge into opportunity and not resort to the progressive approaches of former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. “The government must clearly show to the United States that strained inter-Korean relations should be addressed by South and North Korea, while strengthening cooperation between South Korea and the United States and gaining help from China,” Lee said. This is a realistic suggestion that sticks to principles.

Lee as a "politician" has garnered mixed reviews. He served as prime minister at the time of the first North Korean nuclear crisis caused by its pullout from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and showed great interest in inter-Korean relations in his three bids for the presidency. Both the ruling and opposition parties must consider his experience amid this unprecedented situation – the suspension of inter-Korean exchanges.

Both parties must take his patriotic advice to cope with the challenges in a bipartisan manner. Democratic Party floor leader Won Hye-young has criticized the Lee Myung-bak administration’s hawkish approach for strained relations, saying the increased risk in North Korea has negatively impacted South Korea’s sovereign rating. But Won lacks the insight into the fundamental reasons behind this, and needs to take Lee’s proposal more seriously than anyone else.

If Won continues to say the only solution is the implementation of the 2007 inter-Korean summit declaration adopted four months before Roh`s term ended, inter-Korean relations will not be normalized, and instead only encourage internal disputes.