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On the Lee Myung-bak Doctrine
[Analysis] Lee has so far failed to differentiate himself from other presidential contenders
Lee Byong-chul (merrycow)     Print Article 
Published 2007-08-29 10:53 (KST)   
Korean diplomacy will likely undergo a "creative reconstruction" since Lee Myung-bak was nominated as a front-runner of the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) for the Dec. 19 presidential election. Numerous polls show that Lee is the most prominent candidate for the presidency.

Lee has already released the so-called "MB doctrine" (using the initials of his name), which is aimed at national interest rather than political ideology in foreign policy. Lee has claimed that North Korea per capita income will increase to US$3,000 per year within 10 years if the communist country abandons its nuclear weapons program. CIA statistics show that North Korea recorded an estimated $1,800 per capita in 2006. The question is whether the vaguely defined statement can offer any hope for a solution to the devastated economy in the North.

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Lee's "general" perceptions of the North as a commons are widely shared by conservatives and centrists alike. "Peace agenda already became a commons, not a market," said a North Korea expert. "As you know, a commons is unregulated public resource, and thus, people now see any presidential hopefuls talking about the peace."

Nevertheless, Lee, a former mayor of Seoul, is getting steady support when he tells the people that it's time to take the more balanced measure of a "give and take" policy toward North Korea. He is also busy reminding conservative voters that he supported a robust Korea-U.S. relationship so as to resolve North Korea's nuclear problems, while criticizing the incumbent Roh Moo-hyun government, which has kept a lukewarm relationship with the Bush administration.

With a general but vaguely defined sense that his toughness -- he's known as a "bulldozer" -- and his experience as CEO of Hyundai Construction Company would make him a strong president, Lee is emphasizing defense and foreign policy, as voters have not often trusted the current government to protect the country. "The incumbent government has tried to change the pillar of the Korea-U.S. alliance without any blueprint and thereby damaged the relations between the two allies, " Lee has said.

"MB" is deftly managing to outflank his potential rivals on both the left and the right on key foreign policy issues. That may be a piece of political opportunism on his part, but his top advisers give it a different spin, which may reveal the essence of the man. He is said to be totally pragmatic, while putting the rule of law and principle above political considerations in terms of inter-Korean negotiations. He allegedly asks what would work and what would not work.

Given the GNP's "Vision for Peace on the Korean Peninsula," which has backfired with traditional conservatives, it was unusual to see that veterans of the organization cheering wildly when Lee, as a proponent of that policy, was chosen to be its presidential candidate. He seems to have reassured these conservative voters that he's not a left-wing devil. The bold new policies toward North Korea advanced by some political strategists in order to win favor from young voters, centrists and isolated liberals furious with the government and fed up with the pan-ruling parties, include denuclearization and the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula, an economic community formula, a free travel and telecommunication infrastructure, humanitarian cooperation and assistance, and a human rights community formula.

"Unlike the controversial pan-national inland waterway project on the verge of being scrapped off completely or revised greatly over the long run, Lee has not yet produced meaningful foreign policies. However, to judge from some foreign and defense policy experts surrounding MB, Lee is likely to underscore the stance of 'without an immediate dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, no economic assistance,' and a more solid Korea-U.S. relationship," said a foreign policy expert close to the GNP.

Lee has so far failed to differentiate himself from other presidential contenders in terms of North Korean and foreign policy pledges as well. Otherwise, there are no new policy proposals being proffered by MB.

Regarding an inter-Korean summit, another North Korean watcher predicted that although MB expects the second summit talks to take place with the next government, he is more likely to propel the summit talks than President Roh: "Do you happen to know how to spin a pinwheel when there is no wind at all? He must run forward with it. MB is the very man."

Lee may attempt to become a less attractive target for right-wing rage when he becomes commander in chief. As the election approaches, he must redefine his poor MB doctrine with a new vision, one that isn't just a modification of government policies.
Lee Byong-chul is senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation (IPC), a non-partisan policy advisory body based in Seoul.
©2007 OhmyNews

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