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South Korean President Expected to Promise Calm Approach on North, Aggressive Action on Economy

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea's President is expected to stress a calm approach toward North Korea when he outlines his agenda for the third year of his term. At the same time, he is likely to pledge to continue pushing economic reforms.

In a preview of the president's speech, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hun-jai said Thursday that Roh Moo-hyun remains committed to a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.

At the same time, Mr. Lee said, the president is intent on reforms aimed at invigorating the country's economy.

Speaking before a business group in Seoul, Mr. Lee downplayed North Korea's declarations that it has nuclear weapons, and plans to make more.

"The fact is that such a claim has been made many times before, and does not really pose a new threat …. The North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved in a peaceful manner," he said.

South Korean officials want North Korea to rejoin talks with China, the United States, Japan, and Russia that are aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang has stalled on resuming talks, and diplomats from Japan, South Korea, and the United States are meeting in Seoul over the next few days to discuss how to bring the North back to the table.

Mr. Lee, who is also South Korea's Finance Minister, also told his audience the Roh administration will continue liberalizing the economy.

"Korean economic growth must increasingly become market-led as opposed to being government-led," said Mr. Lee.

Historically in South Korea, government and big business have had a close relationship, in which the largest conglomerates had an implicit guarantee of rescue from failure. In addition, high levels of regulation are thought to have restricted competition, limited imports and encouraged risky bank lending.

Mr. Lee says the Roh administration will reduce government intervention in the economy, confining its role to indirect assistance for emerging industries.

South Korea attracted $100 billion in foreign investment in 2004. Mr. Lee says the government aims to increase that by easing regulations for international companies operating in special economic zones in Iuncheon, Busan, and Gwangyang.

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