SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korean President Park Geun-hye has pressed North Korea again to abandon its nuclear weapons program, calling it a serious threat to world peace.
Speaking at the World Policy Conference (WPC) held in Seoul on Dec. 8, She said that Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear arms is the “most destabilizing” factor on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and also poses a serious threat to world peace.
Criticizing the North’s policy of developing its nuclear programs and economy simultaneously as “contradictory,” Park said that the policy has only worsened living conditions for North Korean citizens.
Despite international pressure, North Korea has repeatedly vowed to develop its economy and nuclear arsenal in tandem, viewing its nuclear programs as a powerful deterrent against what it claims is Washington’s hostile policy toward it.
“What matters is North Korea’s attitude. Should the North give up its nuclear program and come forward to help enhance the livelihoods of its people, South Korea and the international community would work together to support the North’s economic development,” she said. “Otherwise, the remnants of the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula would not be removed.”
As one means of resolving the issue, Park advocated her trademark North Korea policy of the Korean Peninsula Trust Process — the so-called “trustpolitik” based on transforming the divided Korean Peninsula from a zone of conflict into a zone of trust.
Since the beginning of this year, President Park has stressed the importance of Korean unification under her “unification bonanza” initiative. In July, she launched the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation.
“The peaceful unification of the two Koreas will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and eventually, it will be a bonanza for the international community,” Park said.
Park also vowed to flesh out her “Eurasia” initiative as a platform to create new growth engines and build regional trust. The initiative calls for the linking of energy and logistics infrastructure across the continent
“I can’t help but mention North Korea’s insistence on the development of nuclear weapons ― which goes against the international trends (for peace) ― as one of the factors that restrict multilateral cooperation,” she said.
Launched in 2007 by the IFRI, a French research institute, the 7th WPC brought together some 300 prominent figures including political and business leaders, and civil society figures to discuss a set of global issues such as security in Asia and Europe, and climate change.
The WPC session in Seoul was the first to take place in Asia. The WPC is an annual international forum which seeks to foster global governance.
As for the Eurasia initiative, Park said that Seoul would step up efforts to develop and implement three-way cooperative projects among the two Koreas and Russia, as well as among the two Koreas and China.
“The initiative would help us link transport and energy networks beyond Northeast Asia into the Eurasian region. This would help create growth engines and accumulate trust in the realms of politics and security,” she said.
Her remarks about the initiative came as the momentum was building for logistical cooperation among the two Koreas and Russia. Some 45,000 tons of coal from Russia made its way to the South Korean port city of Pohang via North Korea in a pilot program using the newly restored Rajin-Khasan railroad.
Park also used her speech at the WPC to promote her “Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation” initiative as an effective platform to build multilateral trust in the region, which has long been beset by territorial and historical disputes, and geostrategic rivalries.
She stressed the need for multilateral efforts to address the deep-seated distrust among nations in East Asia through cooperation first on less sensitive issues such as climate change and disaster relief.
“Should countries in the region build practice cooperation and dialogue initially on specific, practical issues such as nuclear safety, climate change, disaster relief and energy security, we would be able to develop a multilateral cooperative process like what Europe has achieved,” she said.
To this end, she stressed the need for South Korea, China and Japan to join forces to play a key role to strengthen regional cooperation. Three-way cooperation has weakened in recent years amid territorial and historical disputes among them.
“The South Korean government will make efforts to ensure a trilateral summit can take place based on the meeting of their foreign ministers in the near future,” Park said.
South Korea has said a trilateral summit might be held if the countries successfully conclude their foreign ministers’ meeting and conditions mature.
She expressed a hope that North Korea would join regional powers’ efforts to develop a structure for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia.
On the same day, a senior South Korean presidential aide said that unification between the two rival Koreas could become a “magic bullet” to a nuclear row and other issues on the Korean Peninsula.
Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential foreign affairs secretary, also said during the WPC session that a successful denuclearization of the divided peninsula could give a boost to international efforts to make a world free from nuclear weapons.
“The six-nation talks should be resumed and South and North Korea should pursue direct talks to lay the groundwork for eventual unification of the two Koreas,” Ju said.
Ju’s comments came three days after the top nuclear envoys of China and Japan met in Beijing to discuss ways to jump-start the long-stalled talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Still, Sung Kim, the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, said Washington won’t resume the nuclear talks unless Pyongyang shows its seriousness about denuclearization.
North Korea, which has conducted three nuclear tests, has shown no signs of giving up its nuclear ambitions. The North also views its nuclear programs as a powerful deterrent against what it claims is Washington’s hostile policy toward it.
The six-nation talks, involving South Korea, North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, were last held in December 2008.
South Korean President Park has made strong pitches for unification in recent months, saying unification would be a “bonanza” for both Koreas as well as a blessing for neighboring countries.
South Korea believes unification would provide the Korean people with a springboard to greater prosperity by marrying South Korea’s capital and technology with North Korea’s rich natural resources.
However, North Korea has long suspected that Seoul could be plotting to absorb Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, a senior Seoul official said on Dec. 7 that the Park administration is willing to provide North Korea with appropriate incentives if needed for the reunion of separated families.
The official stressed it is a “very important issue associated with the government’s responsibility.” The majority of people with families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border due to the 1950-53 Korean War are now in their 80s or 90s.
“If we fail to resolve the problem, it means the government is not carrying out its duties. It’s an international shame,” he said as he spoke about the Park administration’s approach toward Pyongyang. “I think the government will actively consider incentives for North Korea if necessary.”
He did not elaborate on what Seoul can offer, instead saying all pending inter-Korean matters can be discussed in a comprehensive way.
The two Koreas held their last family reunion event in February, the first in three years. The conservative Park administration reportedly did not give the North any economic rewards for it.
In the 2000s, however, the South’s liberal governments offered rice and fertilizer aid to the North apparently in return for occasional days-long family reunion events. It’s important for the North to return to the negotiating table, he added.
Observers agree that the South is eager to create conditions for lifting a set of bilateral sanctions on the communist neighbor.
Imposed after the North’s 2010 deadly attack on a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, the so-called May 24th measures have put all inter-Korean economic projects on hold except for the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The South also views the sanctions as a key obstacle to efforts to improve its relations with the North, although it maintains the basic stance that Pyongyang should first acknowledge its responsibility for the Cheonan sinking and offer an apology.
“Basically, the South and the North have mutual mistrust,” the official said. “It’s because of a lack of dialogue, with the Park Geun-hye administration entering its third year in power.”
Copyright Yonhap News Agency, 2014. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.