SEOUL (Reuters) - The frontrunner to be South Korea’s next president says Seoul must be more accommodative toward the North, proposing what she calls a policy of “trustpolitik” that marks a move away from the administration’s current hardline stance.
Park Geun-hye, daughter of the founder of modern-day South Korea, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that her policy aims to establish “mutually binding expectations” that are reinforced by by being both tough and flexible with Pyongyang.
“If North Korea launches another military strike against the South, Seoul must respond immediately to ensure that Pyongyang understands the costs of provocation,” Park wrote in a paper published on Tuesday on the respected journal’s website.
“Conversely, if North Korea takes steps toward genuine reconciliation, such as reaffirming its commitment to existing agreements, then the South should match its efforts.
“An alignment policy will, over time, reinforce trustpolitik,” wrote Park, whose mother was killed by an assassin acting on behalf of North Korea in 1974.
The proposed policy marks a departure from the hardline policy of current President Lee Myung-bak, who demanded an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program before economic aid.
Lee has been criticized for having little to show for his tough policy.
Tensions spiked to their highest level in nearly two decades last year when the North bombarded a South Korean island in the first military attack on its soil since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Seoul has also blamed Pyongyang for the sinking of one of its navy ships in March last year that killed 46 sailors. The North denies the charge.
Since her loss to Lee in a bitterly fought race in 2007, Park has remained largely quiet on national security and economic policy, bidding her time with an eye on the 2012 presidential election.
Polls show she is far ahead of other potential contenders from both the ruling Grand National Party and the opposition to become president.
Soft-spoken and cautious in demeanor in stark contrast to her autocratic father who was assassinated by his spy chief in 1979, Park has consistently been one of the most popular political figures since election to parliament in 1998.
She has favored fiscal conservatism and tax cuts for businesses to spur investment and jobs, and advocated tailored welfare programs to encourage work for young people, increase the country’s birth rate and improve the quality of life for the elderly.
In the first public statement of her policy plans on the North, Park said it would take more than the South to bring Pyongyang around, especially to force it to drop the ambitions to build a nuclear weapons program.
Park, who visited the reclusive North in 2002 and met its leader Kim Jong-il, has been considered one of a small group of figures in the South who have the confidence of officials in Pyongyang to discuss commercial ties and easing tensions.
One way to help build confidence between the rivals will be to revisit a project to link the railways through the peninsula and work with China and Russia to join the lines through Manchuria and Siberia, Park wrote.
She said the project was one of the issues that she and the North’s leader Kim discussed but never followed up. The North conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, deepening its diplomatic isolation and economic woes.
Park said peace on the Korean peninsula will not be possible simply by waiting for the North to change.
“Precisely because trust is at a low point these days, South Korea has a chance to rebuild it.”
Editing by Jeremy Laurence