Situation Updates on the Korean Peninsula and Lee Myung-bak Government’s Policy Toward North Korea

Situation Updates on the Korean Peninsula and Lee Myung-bak Government’s Policy Toward North Korea

In 1945 Korea was divided, and South Korea and North Korea have established their own governments in 1948, and after Korean civil war in 1950 the division structure on the Korean peninsula was intensified. Korean churches in 1980s recognized that the division of the North and the South is a main factor for obstructing democratization, human rights and social development, and have made their every effort for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula in solidarity with world churches.

In 1945 Korea was divided, and South Korea and North Korea have established their own governments in 1948, and after Korean civil war in 1950 the division structure on the Korean peninsula was intensified. Korean churches in 1980s recognized that the division of the North and the South is a main factor for obstructing democratization, human rights and social development, and have made their every effort for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula in solidarity with world churches. As one of the result, “the Declaration of the Churches of Korea on National Reunification and Peace” was declared in 1988. These efforts by churches have been followed by achieving of “The Basic Agreement of South and North” by two governments adopted in 1991, “The June 15 Joint Communique of two Summits” in 2000, and “The October 4 Joint Statement” in 2007, and then we entered into an new era of national reconciliation and peace in the North East Asia, while overcoming the Cold War system between the South and the North.

The basic principle of South Korean government’s policy toward North Korea especially during last 10 years of Kim Dae-joong and Noh Moo-hyun governments has been the so-called “Engagement Policy” stressing on reconciliation and cooperation, peace and co-prosperity. Even though it still exists military antagonism between the North and the South, this policy has contributed to make a framework of peaceful co-existence through mobilizing continuous dialogue, exchange, support and cooperation. In this moment, our task and what the government has to accomplish is to work for the easing of tension on the Korean peninsula, to build permanent peace system, to pursue economic development in valence of the South and the North, and co-prosperity.

When it starts its term on last February, however, Lee Myung-bak government which is conservative would not take the leadership for the improvement of inter-Korean relationship based on reconciliation and co-existence, rather expresses publicly of the philosophy of the past Cold war era and its aggressiveness. The president Lee Myung-bak declared in his inauguration speech of ‘Denuclearization, Opening and Vision 3000’ as a basic rule of inter-Korean relationship.[i] It means that if North Korea undertakes total denuclearization and pursues reformative and opening policy, then economic assistance and cooperation from South Korea would ensure that North Korea will attain a per capita income of $3,000 a year.

The matter of denuclearization is at present undertaking on the international dimension through the framework of the six party talks. In spite of that through a progressive development of inter-Korean relationship the South Korean government has to play an important role in achieving denuclearization in the North, however, the new administration led by Lee Myung-bak relates the inter-Korean relationship to the issue of denuclearization about which the US and NK are key role players and makes the issue as a prerequisite for the inter-Korean relationship. As a result, the inter-Korean relationship has been depending on the international condition of denuclearization as a subordinate element.

It is understood that “Opening” as a prerequisite is not acceptable to the North because North Korean government considers ‘reform and opening’ as key elements for braking down of its social system. And the expression that “North Korea will attain a per capita income of $3,000 a year” is shown as an attitude which regards North Korea as a simple beneficiary rather than an equal partner for dialogue.

This new administration’s policy of inter-Korean relationship is based on ‘the mutual assistance system with the US’ which doesn’t recognize North Korea as partner for dialogue as it is. It has brought with a result that the development of inter-Korean relationship is confined with the frame of international politics and military strategy of the US.

This Change of policy in principle in a hard line is well expressed in the following remarks; ① the attempt to abolish the Ministry of Unification which is the main department dealing with the issue of peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula[ii], ② the ignorance of the joint agreements achieved by the former governments as the  basic framework for inter-Korean relationship[iii], ③ that the issue of denuclearization is as a prerequisite for economic cooperation between the North and the South[iv], ④ the possibility for South Korea to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear facilities,[v] and ⑤ the rejection of humanitarian assistance or conditional support toward North Korea in the situation of food shortage[vi].

Of course, the rebounding speeches of North Korea in response to South Korea’s hostile attitude towards North Korea were also serious. North Korea took stern measures ① to expel South Korean officials from the Kaesong Industrial Complex[vii], ② to make test-fired several short-range missiles into the waters off its west coast.[viii]  Along with these measures, North Korea took its position as its military countermeasures “to begin our style of advanced pre-emptive strikes, to cut off all kinds of dialogue and contact between the two Koreas, and to ban all South Korean government officials from passing through the military demarcation line.”[ix]

It is known that the dialogue between the two Koreas in the present inter-Korea relations is completely blocked and there isn’t any channel for contact and dialogue. It has brought to be elated of tension between the two Koreas, with shrinking of ongoing economic cooperation business, abandonment of new cooperation business, suspension of reunion of separated families, discontinuation of supporting humanitarian food and fertilizer, and followed by that people in the North is starving to death.

We Korean churches have already expressed our concern and anxiety about the hostile policy toward North Korea by Lee Myung-bak government which hinders peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula, and we have already expressed our hope that this new administration could be a government which produces a kind circle of system for resolution of nuclearization, establishment of peace system on the Korean peninsula, formation of economic community of the two Koreas, co-existence and co-prosperity in the North East Asia.

At this moment, the Steering committee of the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification and Development Cooperation on the Korean peninsula expects world churches to urge Lee Myung-bak government in South Korea to pursue the following requests for move up of peace, reconciliation and reunification on the Korean peninsula.

1. This new administration should respect the spirit and the agreement of joint declarations made by the summits between the two Koreas. The June 15 Joint Declaration and October 4 Statement were agreed by two summits of the South and the North and accepted by the nation. For building of peace system on the Korean peninsula and for co-prosperity of the two Koreas, these have to be fully implemented.

2. The respective governments should make their every efforts for resolution of nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula in the earliest possible moment. It is discussed between North Korea and the United States that the North submits its official nuclear declaration to China, the host country of the six-party talks, and then the United States will take steps to remove the country from its list of states sponsoring terrorism. Taking advantage of the coming resolution of denuclearization in the North, Lee Myung-bak government should first and foremost devise a future-oriented policy on the North-South Korea relation through which it can lead to building of peace system on the Korean Peninsula.

3. This new administration should positively support humanitarian aid including food assistance and economic cooperation business without any condition. As a result of flood in the last year, North Korea is facing with a serious food shortage and it is reported of even those who are starving to death. The Lee Myung-bak government should resume support of food and fertilizer as humanitarian aid which have been supported in every Spring by South Korean government. It should be done without interruption due to any forms of development of the inter-Korea relations, because it relates to the matter of survival rights of people in the North. In the past, the first stage of Bush’s administration requested South Korean government to restrain its support to North Korea, worrying that it hinders and decreases the effect of pressure on North Korea. The United States, however, plans and is processing this year to provide the North with 500,000 tons of food as humanitarian aid. Therefore South Korean government should more positively keep its principle of humanitarian aid to North Korea.

4. This new administration should abolish the antagonistic policy toward North Korea based on mutual confrontation, and should pursue positively to have dialogue with North Korea. Administrations in the North and in the South should carefully look into the respective opinions and have positive dialogue through various channels. Reconciliation and peace on the Korean peninsula is a prerequisite for security in the North East Asia and furthermore for peace all over the world. It is also the basement for economic development and co-prosperity in the Korean peninsula. We expect that the North and the South accomplish more matured relationship, getting out of their stringency and continuing the past principles of reconciliation and peace.

(prepared by the National Council of Churches in Korea on June 28, 2008)

[i]  In his inaugural speech, on February 25, 2008, Hankoyreh, Seoul, “As already stipulated in my Initiative for Denuclearization and Opening up North Korea to Achieve US$3,000 in Per Capita Income, once North Korea abandons its nuclear program and chooses the path to openness, we can expect to see a new horizon in inter-Korean cooperation. Along with the international community, we will provide assistance so that we can raise the per capita income of North Korea to US$3,000 within 10 years.”

[ii] January 16, 2008, Hankoyreh, Seoul, “The incoming government of President-elect Lee Myung-bak will close the Unification Ministry and four other ministries as part of its drive for a “small and efficient” government, Lee’s transition team said Wednesday.”

[iii] In the work report of the Ministry of Unification. March 26, 2008, Hankoyreh, Seoul

[iv] In his press interview, Unification Minister Kim Ha-Jung said  “Unless North Korea’s nuclear issue is resolved, it will be difficult to expand the (Gaeseong Industrial Complex). … in addition, Pyongyang should take a more sincere attitude toward the nuclear issue,” March 19, 2008,  on March 20, 2008 Hankyoreh, Seoul,

[v] March 26, 2008, Hankyorhe, At the time, the new chairman Gen. Kim Tae-young answered in a parliamentary hearing that, “The most important thing is to strike a site that the enemy could be using to stock nuclear bombs, after confirming the location of the site, before the enemy uses t hem. The next thing would be to not let them be used against us.” This remark semmed to indicate that South Korea would be open to launching a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

[vi] “Large size of humanitarian assistance to the North is depending on how the progress of denuclearization is and the change of attitude of North Korea…” on March 13, 2008, Hankoyreh, and “If there is a request to support from the North…” March 19, 2008, Hankoyreh.

[vii] From Yonhap, on March 27, 2008,  in Hankyoreh,  Seoul “North Korea expelled all South Korean government officials from their joint office in the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex Thursday, the Unification Ministry said, in an apparent sign of strained ties after the launch of the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration.”

[viii] March 28, 2008, Yonhap in Hankyoreh, Seoul  “North Korea test-fired several missiles into the sea off the country’s west coast Friday, sources here said.”

[ix] March 30, 2008, Hankyoreh, Seoul