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Uncertainty, Opportunity Loom for Inter-Korean Relations


An anti-communist person holds a national flag during a rally to celebrate the victory of South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-hye of Saenuri Party in front of the party headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, December 20, 2012.

An anti-communist person holds a national flag during a rally to celebrate the victory of South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-hye of Saenuri Party in front of the party headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, December 20, 2012.

In her initial appearance during her first day as president-elect, Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri (New Frontier) Party went to South Korea's national cemetery to pay tribute to three deceased presidents, including her father.

She burned incense at her parents' tomb. The moment marked a poignant transition for the 60-year-old democratically-elected president, finally stepping out of the shadow cast by her dictator father's legacy.

Park Chung-hee's long grip on power, that had begun with a military coup in 1961, ended in 1979 when he was murdered by his intelligence chief.

The president-elect also lost her mother in 1974 to an assassin's bullet. It was fired by a North Korean-backed agent.

And, North Korea was very much on Park's mind during her first day as president-elect.

In a speech, she announced national security will get top priority in her administration.

"The launch of North Korea's long-range missile symbolically showed how grave is the security situation South Korea confronts," said Park.

The North, on December 12, fired a multi-stage rocket that placed an object into space.

Pyongyang claims it successfully deployed a peaceful earth observation satellite. Scientists and amateur astronomers say they have detected no signals indicating the object is functioning.



In her nationally televised speech Thursday, the president-elect also vowed to “open a new era on the Korean peninsula, based on strong security and trust-based diplomacy.”

During the campaign she differed with her main opponent, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party, who had pledged to hold an unconditional summit with the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un.

Park had said Pyongyang would first have to apologize for recent military provocations.

The South blames the North for a 2010 torpedo attack on one of its coastal naval vessels that killed 46 personnel. Later that same year, North Korea shelled a frontier island where the South has a military base. That attack killed four people, including two civilians.

Under outgoing president Lee Myung-bak, desperately-needed aid for the impoverished and isolated North was severely curtailed compared to what was provided by the two previous South Korean administrations, which hoped for warming ties under a “Sunshine Policy” of engagement.

The new South Korean president will emphasize the existing military alliance between her country and the United States, according to Professor Yang Moo-jin at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.

The Kim Jong Un government in Pyongyang, Yang explains, is “committed to its survival through development of long-range rockets and nuclear weapons.”

Thus, according to Yang, it will be difficult for the two Koreas to have an effective discussion.

The two countries technically remain at war. Three years of devastating civil conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice, but Seoul and Pyongyang have never agreed to a peace treaty.

Since 1949, political control of the North (officially the Democratic People's Republic) has been in the hands of one family. Kim Jong Un is the third generation leader and grandson of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung.

The younger Kim came to power following the death, one year ago, of his father, Kim Jong Il.

So far, North Korea has not commented on Park's election and there has been no mention of the outcome in its media.

Last month, the North Korean state-run news agency KCNA warned that Park's stated positions on diplomacy, security and unification policy during the campaign “would bring only confrontation and war.”

On South Korea's Election Day, the news agency made an oblique reference to her Saenuri Party as “confrontation maniacs” who are “going mad with false propaganda” against the Pyongyang leadership.

Youmi Kim in the VOA Seoul bureau contributed to this report.

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