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Kim Jong Un`s actions can improve inter-Korean ties

Posted January. 02, 2013 03:07,   


In his New Year’s speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hinted at improving ties with the incoming Park Geun-hye administration of South Korea. Stressing the importance of ending bilateral confrontation, he mentioned respect and implementation of the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean joint declarations as preconditions for that. Considering that Pyongyang in the past frequently talked of "ending division of the nation and achieving national reunification" and urged the resolution of confrontational conditions, Seoul can hardly afford to expect its northern neighbor to change anytime soon. Notably, the North merely alluded that it hopes to hold dialogue and stopped short of making specific suggestions. Pyongyang, however, has changed a bit this time compared to the past, when it threatened "to never reopen contact forever and blasted outgoing President Lee Myung-bak and the ruling Saenuri Party as a “faction of traitors.”

North Korea internally might have made a strategic judgment of resuming at an appropriate time dialogue with President-elect Park, who pledged no preconditions on inter-Korean dialogue in her election campaign. Pyongyang might recall inter-Korean relations under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, when the North received rice and fertilizer aid in return for dialogue. The North under the second year of Kim Jong Un as ruler externally looks as if it is stabilizing, but many factors that could lead to instability remain internally. Pyongyang will likely keep a close watch on the direction of President-elect Park’s North Korea policy and monitor the situation in the South for the time being.

Park should send North Korea a clear signal on the latter`s 2009 nuclear test and resumption of South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang in the North to ensure no ill-advised actions by Pyongyang. According to a New Year’s survey conducted by The Dong-A Ilbo, 70 percent of South Koreans said their country should continue sending humanitarian aid to the North irrespective of political situation. Yet the South cannot afford to disregard the North`s 2010 sinking of a South Korean naval corvette by torpedo attack and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea as if nothing had happened.

On its launch of a long-range missile last month, the North bragged about it by saying, "It was a great success that elevated the dignity and honor of the People of the Sun to the supreme level." This, however, can hardly resolve the mass starvation facing the North Korean people. If Pyongyang wants to ensure that none of its people go hungry as it has openly pledged, it must first present specific measures for economic reform.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama will start his second term with a stronger determination to record diplomatic achievements. President-elect Park says the operation of a Korean Peninsula trust process could be an opportunity for North Korea. If Pyongyang conducts a third nuclear test or launches limited warfare, a glimmer of hope for the North`s window of opportunity will go up in smoke. If the North Korean leader seeks to erase his nation`s nickname of a “country of failure,” where people cannot even afford corn soup, he must make the courageous decision of adopting Chinese-style reforms and opening.

Trying to capture the respect and authority of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un read his New Year’s message with his own voice just as his grandfather did 19 years ago. If the leader merely seeks to mimic his grandfather, the Stalinist state cannot catch up with the world, which is evolving at light speed. The only way for Kim Jong Un to survive is to halt the North`s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and stop the teachings handed down by his predecessors.