The three leading presidential candidates announced campaign planks on foreign, security and North Korean affairs. They shared one voice in enhancing security, improving ties with North Korea and strengthening relations with the United States and China. But there were differences in tone. Park Geun-hye of the ruling conservative Saenuri Party would heighten security and Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party would improve inter-Korean relationships, while independent contender Ahn Cheol-soo remained somewhat in the middle.
The security and foreign affairs platforms underscore shortcomings and unsatisfactory results in policies of both engagement toward North Korea by the left-leaning governments of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, as well as the hardline position taken by the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration. The presidential hopefuls instead chose a two-track policy on North Korea.
Their prescriptions toward solving the North Korean nuclear issue are of the greatest concern. We are fully aware that inter-Korean relations cannot move forward without progress in that area. Few will argue that it is pointless to pursue a better relationship with North Korea unless the nuclear threat is removed.
Park proposed to resolve the matter through negotiation channels, keeping in line with international consensus. Moon wants to link the North Korea nuclear issue to a bigger peace outline on the Korean Peninsula, suggesting measures to persuade North Koreans to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for a lasting peace arrangement. He also proposes mending ties with the North as a way to get it to end its nuclear program. Ahn is leaning toward Moon’s idea, saying he will seek to solve the nuclear issue as part of working toward permanent peace.
The three candidates are not wrong in their general direction, but they need to be more decisive and specific. The nuclear issue has been an underlying problem for the country’s foreign, security and unification front over the past two decades. We must take more aggressive action to solve it to have lasting peace. We should set our goal on denuclearization and declare support for North Korea in seeking diplomatic ties with the United States and Japan if it begins dismantling its nuclear facilities.
Inter-Korean relations are deadlocked unless there is development in denuclearization. We cannot expect to solve the regional problem simply through improving ties with the North without an assurance of denuclearization. We hope the presidential election can help raise a solution to the problem.