What matters is implementation
In his Liberation Day speech Monday, President Yoon Suk-yeol made a bold proposal to North Korea. He said his government will provide a groundbreaking package of support, such as food supplies, electricity transmission infrastructure and harbor and airport modernization, if North Korea stops its cherished nuclear development programs and shifts to de facto denuclearization. The focus of Yoon’s proposal is on taking concrete steps from the early stage of negotiation if North Korea returns to dialogue — instead of demanding North Korea denuclearize first as most of his predecessors did.
The conservative Yoon administration’s North Korea policy was expected to lean toward hard-lines based on sanctions and pressure. The hawkish policy could not draw much attention as it only echoed the Lee Myung-bak administration, which promised an intrepid package of economic aid in return for North Korea’s denuclearization and opening. Yoon’s proposal is a detailed version of the “bold plan” he mentioned in his inaugural address on May 10.
Despite the president’s proposal for helping North Korea on what it desperately needs, it is not clear what response Pyongyang will make. Certainly, North Korea will not change its attitudes overnight based on the generous aid package alone. It would be nearly a pipe dream to expect the recalcitrant state to shift to the dialogue mode after bragging about its nuclear power for years. Until last week, North Korea stayed belligerent enough to threaten to “annihilate everyone in South Korea.”
We urge Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table after ending its hostilities toward Seoul. The Yoon administration also must not spare effort to draw North Korea to dialogue through cooperation with the international community rather than simply waiting for North Korea to change.
Another noteworthy point in Yoon’s speech is his expression of the will to make amends with Japan for future cooperation after defining the country as a “neighbor to join forces to confront common challenges threatening freedom.” The line was dramatically different from past presidential speeches that prioritized the resolution of thorny history issues. Also resounding is Yoon’s interpretation of Korea’s modern history as the process of inheritance and development for the realization of liberty, not as an accumulation of ruptures and conflict. We welcome his positive perspective of history instead of the ideology-driven ones we saw in the past.
What matters is how to implement such ideas, whether they target North Korea or Japan. Only when the president proves his ability to put them into action through open-mindedness and brisk communications can he achieve the goal.
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