News / Asia

South Korean President A Pragmatist on Pyongyang, Says Analyst

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaks at a meeting to report on a Ministry of Justice operation at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, Dec. 20, 2010.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaks at a meeting to report on a Ministry of Justice operation at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, Dec. 20, 2010.

South Korea's president is demanding that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program in 2011 and he says resuming the six-party talks are the only way forward.

President Lee Myung-bak has previously insisted that Pyongyang show it is serious about nuclear disarmament before it is allowed to resume the talks with China, Russia, Japan, the United States and the two Koreas. But it has been a tense 2010 on the Korean peninsula ever since March, when a South Korea war ship exploded, killing 46 seamen. The North denied any involvement, but South Korea, backed by international investigators, blamed Pyongyang. Last month, a North Korean artillery barrage on South Korea's Yeongpyeong island killed four people, and prompted a series of massive military exercises involving South Korean and U.S. forces.

VOA spoke with Peter Beck, a long-time North Korea observer at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.  

Is President Lee Myung-bak changing his approach with North Korea by abandoning his demand that they first demonstrate they are dismantling their nuclear program before the six-party talks can resume?

"I think President Lee has been falsely painted as a hardliner when it comes to North Korea. I've known him from his days in self-imposed exile in the United States and as mayor and he is a businessman. He is a pragmatist. He is not a hardliner. I think this just shows his pragmatic side. At the end of the day, we don't have any appealing options other than to negotiate with North Korea and I think it's an acknowledgment of that reality. It is coming sooner than I would've expected given that the South has now suffered two sucker-punches by North Korea. But there really is no choice but to talk to the North."

Is the South truly ready to sit down and talk with the North after last month's artillery attack on Yeongpyeong island that killed four people and the sinking of the South Korean Navy ship in March that killed 46 sailors?

"There has to be a certain amount of outrage because what North Korea did was outrageous. But once people cool down, I think there is a realization that waiting for someone to di,  or waiting for a change in North Korea is not a policy, it's wishful thinking.  And I think he [Lee Myung-bak] is the first to recognize that. We've seen that South Korea is taking a resolute stand and trying to beef up its military to try to do better when the next sucker-punch comes. North Korea has learned that the only way they have a chance of prevailing in a conflict is if they have the element of surprise. They will try to do that again and the bottom line is it doesn't matter if they lose troops in response. So conflict is a no-win situation for South Korea. Even if they kill hundreds or thousands of North Koreans, it's not going to solve the North Korea question."

The North's political leadership says it is focused on boosting its economy in the coming year.  You've written about how North Korea's command economy collapsed in the 1990's and has been replaced by hundreds of informal markets where people sell home grown vegetables, house-hold items and Chinese consumer products. Is the North Korean leadership taking a lesson from China, where the government has allowed market forces to work?

"I think the markets are taking root in North Korea in spite of the government. Although there are forces at play, market forces and technology that are seeping into North Korea, I don't think North Korea is ready to take China's path.  But millions of North Koreans have taken matters into their own hands and have recognized if they wait for food to come from the state, they will starve. So even with the disastrous currency reforms that North Korea launched a year ago, markets seem to have recovered, based on the reports of visitors. "

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs