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GNP's New North Korean Policy Is a Tall Order
[Analysis] For conservatives, is it a change in policy or a refusal to do so that's more risky?
Lee Byong-chul (merrycow)     Print Article 
Published 2007-07-10 17:05 (KST)   
Before the ink on the proposal on North Korea was dry, argument among conservatives is harshly erupting.

"Taking up a quasi-liberalism may be particularly dangerous for the greatest opposition Grand National Party now that conservatives are still controlling the public셲 mind, although its sudden change of North Korean policies can win a favor from liberals," a conservative North Korean expert who refused to be named said. "I am watching the GNP's rise with trepidation."

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He attributed the GNP's abrupt turnaround of policies toward the North to "an incredible thirst for an alternative vision."

According to the GNP's Vision for Peace on the Korean Peninsula which has been most recently initiated by its Special Committee for Peaceful Unification but seemingly failed to create a unanimous agreement among the whole party members, the intra-committee finds it necessary to establish the following five projects as cardinal: a denuclearization and peace regime on the peninsula, an economic community formula, an infrastructure of free travel and telecommunication, a humanitarian cooperation and assistance and a human rights community formula.

For these to be achieved, the GNP is reportedly willing to invite 30,000 North Korean workers to South Korea for vocational training programs, to support the construction of a Seoul-Shinuju expressway, to open a direct air route between Gimpo and Sunan airports, to create an inter-Korean version of Free Trade Agreement, to modernize North Korean factories and limited supply of electricity and to create special tourism zones in Mt. Kumgang and Mt. Seorak, respectively.

On top of these, the committee also expressed to abandon its old strategy of "security first, exchanges later" and to provide three million North Koreans on the lowest poverty line with an annual fifteen hundred thousand tons of rice on free.

Yet these goals remain to be seen whether the presidential contenders -- especially Lee Myong-bak and Park Geun-hye -- are in favor of the proposals; Ms. Park already hinted the assistance-focused proposals need to be reconsidered in that the GNP has long taken a position of mutual reciprocity toward North Korea, whereas Mr. Lee officially agreed, literally in principle, to the proposal.

"Both Lee and Park would not clearly express their perceptions toward North Korea, clinging to the principled rhetoric of 'inducing the reclusive North Korea toward openness, and promoting peace and stability on the peninsula,'" a political analyst who is close to the GNP said. "In terms of ideological spectrum, nevertheless, Park is considered to be a little bit right-ward rather than Lee."

He also added, "Either Park or Lee, should consider that the contents could be political boomerangs some day."

Liberals underestimated the proposals as sort of the political maneuvering in a fear that the GNP might fail to get much support from the moderate young voters and to lose the December presidential election because of its deep-rooted ideological rigidity.

"We need to know who actually led in the making of the abruptly-organized scheme. The principal planner had served in the field of national intelligence for a long time, and quickly used it to save his political neck in a 'surprise policy plea' to the nation. So, I am sure that the plot expires until the election, say, it's a tall order," a liberal expert on North Korean affair argued. "The announcement is nothing more than a blend of casual candor and inspiring eloquence that extracted from what liberals already claimed."

The GNP has in fact been so far tacked sharply to the right, and so it goes without a saying that many conservatives still have a bitter taste in their mouths from the recent announcement that the GNP they politically adore might attempt to help North Korea in a similar way the liberal-tinted government has ever done.

The GNP's about-face-like-attitude seemed unpardonable hypocrisy to many "traditional" conservatives. They think the GNP pressed the wrong button on the North Korea policy, based on the judgment that the current government is scheduled to hold the second inter-Korean summit meeting on Aug. 15, the National Liberation Day.

Yet to some moderate conservatives who think the GNP's risk is not change but is to refuse change, the proposal plays as another momentum of creating a wider spectrum of supporting voters and thawing the fear that has frozen the relationship between the GNP and North Korea.

Lee, Byong-Chul is senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation (IPC), a non-partisan advisory policy body based in Seoul, South Korea. IPC also issues a weekly English newsletter KOREA UPDATE, which focuses on the North Korean affairs.
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