I think we need to talk about domestic politics before talking about policy planning for North Korea, wrote Park Geun Hye in a recent Foreign Affairs piece.
We can say that a country’s diplomacy is mostly an extension of that country’s domestic politics. If the standard of domestic politics is low, the country's diplomatic ability will also be low.
In turn, the level of a country’s politics mostly matches the level of its politicians, media and citizenry. Then, what is the level of South Korean politics? We don’t need to go hunting for an answer; we can just review the recent 'Ahn Cheol Su phenomenon.' It represents South Korea’s current political level well.
The fundamental cause of the phenomenon, whereby a respected businessman and professor contemplates running for Seoul mayor as an independent due to his chagrin at established politicians? That existing parties are not doing their job well, and the media in this country is falling well shy of the level of our economic development.
In truth, 'politics' has been disappearing from South Korea's political landscape for quite a while. Parties don’t exhibit an interest in national values, national goals, South Korea’s role in the international community, or even building hope for the nation’s future; instead, they focus on elections and internecine party strife. There is no politics involved.
Individual lawmakers from both sides of the chamber only care about their reelection hopes; the citizens' or the nation’s well-being is not their main interest. They take no responsibility for the South Korean nation. This is the current level of South Korean politics. The popularity of Ahn Cheol Su proves it.
And policy on North Korea is as dysfunctional as our domestic politics. North Korea policy largely belongs to the diplomatic field, and since the level of domestic politics is low, so the level of cognition vis North Korea is also low. Because the level of cognition of North Korea is low, North Korea policy is inappropriate. Sun Tzu in the Art of War said, “If you know your enemy and yourself, you can win every battle”. In terms of South Korean politics, we neither know ourselves or the other party, and so the opposite is true.
For her part, the level of Park Geun Hye’s cognition of North Korean issues was revealed in Foreign Affairs.
The keynote terms from Park’s policy plan for North Korea are 'Trustpolitik' and 'Alignment Policy'.
In essence, Park said that North Korea has to follow international norms, and that they need to pay for those of their activities which destroy peace. The balance between security and inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation and the balance between inter-Korean talks and international cooperation are both important, and we must respond firmly to military provocation while approaching negotiations openly, she asserted. Through reasonable restraint, endless persuasion and effective cooperation, we need to make North Korea realize that they can survive without nuclear weapons and recover economically by strengthening their cooperation with the international community, she concluded. In her opinion, the Sunshine Policy couldn’t bring fundamental change because it depended on excessive hope, and the Lee Myung Bak administration couldn’t change North Korea in any meaningful way due to its overly hard line.
To put the conclusion first, Park’s policy plan seems to be half-complete. It has 'means' but no goal. Trust and alignment are tools by which to decide policy toward North Korea, but can’t be goals in themselves. That's why Park’s plan is only 50% complete. Furthermore, there is no national goal or future goal for the Korean Peninsula.
There are 3 main problems with Park’s plan;
First, it isn't actually 'new'.
In truth, her plan is an agglomeration of Sunshine Policy tenets and Lee administration concepts. 'Trustpolitik' in essence means 'frustrating North Korean attempts at provocation while building trust between South and North'; exactly the ambition of the Kim Dae Jung administration’s policy. The problem then was that Kim Jong Il abused that trust to maintain his regime.
Unless reform and opening takes hold in North Korea, real trust is impossible between South and North; only a 'strategic game with a mask of trust' can exist. The Kim Dae Jung administration overlooked this.
Second, there are no policy goals.
What is the final goal of South Korean policy toward North Korea? It must be for the Korean Peninsula to see peaceful unification and find for itself a vision of the future, no matter how long it takes and no matter what procedures and processes it requires. In Park’s 'new kind of Korea' there is no vision for either. There is no future for the unified Korean Peninsula, East Asian peace and co-prosperity or a global community of democracies.
Park’s new kind of Korea is merely an aspirational policy for South and North Korea to peacefully coexist, similar in many ways to those of the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Mu Hyun administrations. Sadly, an aspirational policy for peaceful coexistence such as this will conclude with a return to the status quo ante on the Korean Peninsula, as Kim Jong Il repeats his hackneyed strategy of provocation and peaceful overture, repeating the classic mantra, "We invaded you last night-we are quite prepared to fight, unless you pay us cash to go away."
Third, there’s no comment in the article about the 24 million North Koreans to whom it pertains.
70 million people live on the Korean Peninsula. Does it make fundamental sense to ignore the 24 million who will pioneer a unified future when laying out policy?
The North Korea issues currently being dealt with by the UN are ① the North Korean nuclear issue (UNSC) ② North Korean human rights issues (UNHRC). These are the things on the world's agenda. And yet, Park didn’t mention anything about the human rights crisis or the third generation succession, she just talked about the nuclear issue.
In short, Park’s plan doesn't really explain in any meaningful way why we as South Koreans have to spend so much money, time and manpower on North Korea.
In brief, the goals of South Korean policy should be: ① solving the problems of the 24 million North Koreans; ② achieving East Asian peace and co-prosperity; and ③ actively contributing to the creation of a peaceful world community.
To which ends, the issues to address are: ① the North Korean nuclear issue; ② the reform and opening issue; ③ the human rights issue; and ④ the Korean Peninsula peace issue. But Park mainly focused on the nuclear issue without mentioning peaceful Korean Peninsula reunification, just the lightweight ”methodology of maintaining peace.” So her plan is very disappointing as a South Korean vision for the future.
If Park were not a strong presidential candidate, Foreign Affairs wouldn’t print her plan, and I wouldn’t care about it one bit. But considering her weight in South Korean politics, the plan is important.
There is no other way. Park has to return to the drawing board and return with a plan that includes both a philosophy and goal for North Korea policy and addresses all the existing problems. She still has time.