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Thursday, March 31, 2005

SOUTH KOREAN JOURNALIST SYMPOSIUM

'Sunshine policy' still most viable approach to problematic North


Staff writer

See the main story: Questions of history hound relations See related stories: To really catch up, many more Samsungs needed

A hardline approach alone will not resolve problems involving North Korea, including its nuclear weapons program and the abductions of Japanese nationals, according to the South Korean journalists at the Keizai Koho Center symposium.

Responding to criticism that Seoul may be too soft toward Pyongyang, the journalists said the parties concerned should understand the risks that South Korea will inevitably face in the event of a crisis in the Korean Peninsula.

In February, North Korea upped the ante in the nuclear standoff by announcing that it already has nuclear weapons and refusing to come back to the six-party talks with the United States, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.

North Korea has also snubbed Japan's repeated demand that it come clean on the fate of Japanese nationals it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s, and has warned that launch of economic sanctions being pondered by Japan would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Hwang Ho Taeck, an editorial writer of The Dong-A Ilbo, said the South Korean government's position on the nuclear issue is the same as those of the U.S. and Japan -- that North Korea's nuclear weapons development is unacceptable and that Pyongyang must return to the six-party talks.

Abduction of the Japanese nationals was an inhumane act on the part of North Korea and the outrage of the Japanese public is fully understandable, Hwang said.

But Hwang expressed doubts whether economic sanctions -- especially if Japan is to act alone -- will be effective in resolving the abductions issue. While Japanese public opinion and lawmakers within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are increasingly in favor of sanctions, other members of the six-party framework are calling for restraint, out of concern that sanctions could backfire by jeopardizing the nuclear talks.

The priority should be first on getting North Korea back on the six-party talks and having it accept international inspection of its nuclear program, Hwang noted.

Touching on the idea of a pre-emptive strike to stop North Korea going nuclear, Hwang warned that a military crisis is a "matter of life and death" for South Korea because its capital is only within tens of kilometers from North Korean missile bases.

South Korea wants to be fully consulted if such an option is to be considered, he told the audience.

Jung Suk Koo, an editorial writer of the Hankyoreh newspaper, said opinions vary within South Korea over how to deal with North Korea, with some calling for a more hardline policy toward the North.

Future unification

Jung said his newspaper's editorial position is that South Korea should handle the nuclear and other issues concerning the North on the basic principle that the two countries will eventually be reunited as a nation.

Seen from a broader perspective, he said, it is doubtful if those issues can be settled by merely taking a hardline approach.

Tensions between South and North Korea were much higher when Seoul was taking a tougher position on relations with Pyongyang, and the South Korean government had to spend heavily on military buildup, Jung said.

The tensions have substantially eased since then President Kim Dae Jung adopted the "sunshine policy" of engaging the North in the late 1990s, and this moderate policy -- carried over by current administration of Roh Moo Hyun -- will be appropriate over the long term, he added.

Kim Jong Soo, an editorial writer of The JoongAng Ilbo, noted that approach toward North Korea should be considered from the viewpoint of "risk management."

A disorderly collapse of the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Il would be the most costly scenario for the parties concerned, he warned, asking, "Will South Korea and China have the capacity to handle a massive influx of refugees from North Korea?"

The question, he said, is whether to corner North Korea into taking unpredictable actions, or to maintain a sustainable relationship with it. It should not be a mere choice between a hardline and soft approaches, he added.

Another factor that Seoul wants the other parties to consider, Kim said, is the risk that a possible military crisis over North Korea would pose to the fate of foreign investments in South Korea. (T.K.)



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