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제목 For the Successful Trust-Building Process 일자 2013.10.10
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Keun-Sik Kim

Serial No. (IFES Forum No. 13-10-10)
Inter-Korean relations have finally began to warm up after a successful conclusion of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) negotiations. In time for this, South Korean government has published a booklet delineating President Park Geun-hye’s Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula. Notwithstanding a few ambiguous passages, its contents are hardly disputable as it is described as a policy that seeks, “to build trust between South and North Korea based on strong security and trust-based diplomacy that promotes inter-Korean relations, peace on the Korean peninsula, and a foundation towards unification."

The concepts, goals, and principles that frame the vision of the trust-building process are virtually flawless in its content. Similarly, past government's North Korea policy was indubitable in concepts, directions and objectives that hoped to draw a roadmap towards improved relations. Even President Lee Myung-bak's policy of Mutual Benefits and Common Prosperity – in theory – was considered a judicious proposal.

The problem then, lies not with the content but in the practice and the method of carrying out the plan as originally designed. The Lee Myung-bak government took the hardliner approach that demanded North Korea to make the initial move towards change. It was a conditional overture where “creating a hopeful future of inter-Korean relations” required North Korea to adopt fundamental changes as the premise to improving relations. Of course, inter-Korean dialogue came to a immediate halt, resulting in one of the worst security crisis on the peninsula in recent history.

Therefore, in order for the trust-building process on the Korean peninsula to function properly as described in the booklet, the Park Geun-hye administration’s approach will hold the key to success. President Park appears to adhere strongly to her campaign promises that stressed trust and alignment as the main method of approach. Her policy seeks to distinguish itself from her predecessors and criticized Presidents Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-hyun’s North Korea policies for being too soft while President Lee Myung-bak’s policy was condemned for its extreme hardline stance. Thus, President Park intends to find balance between security and cooperation and build trust through the implementation of the agreements between the two nations. In other words, her method of approach stands firmly on basic principles towards the North while pursuing a trust-building process.

However, this is rather an ambiguous approach since the direction of North Korea policy could head toward both reconciliation and cooperation or hardline policies. If the attitude towards the North is motivated by fundamental principles, then it will take the shape of a more hardliner approach while a emphasis on trust-building process is more likely to lead to appeasement policy.

In the end, based on the choices and decisions made by the incumbent government, it could espouse both hard-line and appeasement policies towards North Korea. The last six months of President Park’s North Korea policy demonstrated such possibility. Even amidst the times of tensions, offers for talks were made to Pyongyang and during the KIC negotiation talks, the South’s acceptance of the North’s demand for both parties to appear in the passage for prevention of recurrence of future stoppage of the complex, are considered as one of the instances of the president showing flexibility. On the other hand, South Korea’s ultimatum to North Korea for a sudden withdrawal from the KIC a day before scheduled inter-Korean dialogue as well as obstinately demanding for a specific person, or problematizing the level of delegation of the North, can be seen as a hardline decision grounded on excessive emphasis on fundamental principles.

Thus, for Park Geun-hye administration’s trust-building process to succeed, it is critical to adopt more active and flexible approach to North Korea rather than insisting on rigid priniciples for trust-building.

First of all, the alignment of cooperation with security must not sway from situation to situation. During the times of tension, reinforcing national security must be a top priority while North Korea’s attempt to improve relations would be a propitious time for further advancing inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. However, one should keep in mind, cooperation or security should not be an unequivocal choice of one over the other. Even during the phase of tension, exchanges and cooperation should be maintained while security must be reinforced even during the moments of calm. This is why Kaesong Complex, Mount Kumgang tours and other inter-Korean relations should continue even in the face of conflict in the West Sea and other security situation.

Second, it is critical to deliver the message to the North that trust-building process must begin with carrying out mutually agreed commitments. A firm warning that there will be consequences for breach of agreements should be sent at the same time with a positive message that the South will take the initiative to comply with the agreements first. Setting a positive example to the North should be the underpinning foundation. Inevitably, trust-building cannot be done alone but a product of mutual interaction.

Nevertheless, Park Geun-hye administration’s emphasis only on the implementation of agreements could send a half-true message that highlights only the drastic aspect that breachment of pledges will result in resolute measures. Building trust between two parties requires for a consistent transmission of positive signal that while negative consequences will follow for violation of agreements, at the same time both parties should both work to show good faith to comply with agreed promises.

Henceforth, the appropriate approach for Park administration to undertake is to rethink the one-sided demands that repetitively stress the negative consequences for threats and provocations but instead opt to send out positive message of trust as well, by setting the good example of demonstrating its unwavering commitment to agreements. What is necessary at the moment is for the Park administration to not only forewarn to close the Kaesong Industrial Complex for North Korea’s abrupt decision to withdraw workers from the complex, but at the same time commit to normalize the operations at the KIC as mutually agreed in the past. The crucial element of trust-building process should abstain from political and military situations, and promote humanitarian aid to demonstrate steady and consistent effort to advance relations.

Thirdly, linking the nuclear issue with inter-Korean relations should be avoided. North Korean nuclear issue is an ongoing concern and the situation is undoubtedly exacerbating day by day. Nuclear issue is of utmost importance for national security but by associating it with inter-Korean relations, this is in fact obstructing the maintance and advancement of relations, only to be regarded as a conditional approach. The Lee Myung-bak government’s Vision 3000: Denuclearization and Openness and the Grand Bargain policies unmistakably exemplify the negative outcomes of such approach.

Moreover, the maintainance and improvement of inter-Korean relations could act as a safety valve to ameliorate the hightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula at the time of nuclear crisis and may serve as an impetus to advance nuclear negotiations amid the continuing dispute. The past experiences in the nuclear crisis has unmistakably demostrated this fact. The Park Geun-hye government should not get stuck in a quagmire of resolving the nuclear issue at the expense of damaging inter-Korean relations.

In sum, the Park administration’s approach to North Korea should not give up on cooperation or lose sight of inter-Korean relations. An unyielding stance that inter-Korean relations will be maintained despite nuclear challenges should be the underpinning basis of the policy. The fact that trust-building is only possible when these conditions are met should not be forgotten. By relinquishing the rigid priciples of endeavoring to break the bad habits of North Korea and instead follow the principle of advancing inter-Korean relations through building trust for a more flexible, robust, and improved relations. Above all, let’s hope President Park, a politician of principles, heads in the right direction by following the right principles.
 
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