“That’s why I personally believe that there probably is space for Park to carve out her own initial interaction” with the North, said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Really, it’s about South Korea taking the lead on inter-Korean relations at a time when there is, politically, no space for pursuing that option in Washington. So in a way, it’s very convenient for the Obama administration to let that play out.”
Park’s approach is more dovish than Lee’s but still much more stern than the “Sunshine Policy” — introduced by Kim Dae-jung in 1998 and continued by Roh — that liberal candidate Moon Jae-in promised to reinstate. No matter the North’s behavior, Park says, she will resume political dialogue and provide some sort of humanitarian aid. She also plans to restore some small-scale economic projects and cultural exchanges, although she has stayed vague about specifics.
But for the South to provide anything more significant, Park says, the North must begin to dismantle its nuclear weapons — something it has vowed will never happen. In the official seven-page document in which Park lays out her North Korea strategy, which she calls “Trustpolitik,” she says she is open to helping the North build up its roadways and its electricity infrastructure. She also mentions the possibility of cooperating in special economic zones and helping the North attract foreign investment. But all this is “pursuant to progress in denuclearization,” the document says.
“I think Park is in a bind,” said Robert E. Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University in Pusan, South Korea. “You’ve got this public opinion that thinks Lee Myung-bak was too hawkish. But within her party, and within the national security bureaucracy, you’ve still got a really strong contingent that sees North Korea as this old Communist foe. So she’s got to sort of walk through the raindrops. I don’t know if she can do it.”
Since Park’s victory, North Korea’s state news agency has said nothing about the incoming leader. But before the election, the North described Park’s conservative party as “confrontation maniacs.”
“Furthermore,” the North said, “Park’s logic of ‘scrapping nuclear program first’ is not different from Lee Myung Bak’s [policy], but just an extension of it.”
Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.