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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs