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Next S. Korean President Expected to Revamp Policy with North


Experts widely agree the election of former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak as South Korea's president will bring a significant shift in the country's policy toward North Korea. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin reports.

Lee Myung-bak began his first day as South Korea's president-elect Thursday by promising he would begin a new era of peace on the Korean peninsula. He says the two Koreas will open a new period of collaboration, based on the denuclearization of North Korea.

The outgoing administration of President Roh Moo-hyun, too, has consistently expressed a commitment to ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program. But, Mr. Roh has also supported what is known as the "engagement policy" of transferring billions of dollars in aid and investment to the North with few conditions or criticism attached. The policy lost significant public support in South Korea last year, when Pyongyang tested its first nuclear weapon.

Lee Chung-min, professor of international relations at Seoul's Yonsei University, says incoming president Lee Myung-bak will conduct a thorough review of North Korea policy.

"Mr. Lee's policy toward North Korea will be quite simple: engagement, yes - but what do we get in return?" he asked.

Professor Lee says President Lee will almost certainly continue South Korea's humanitarian assistance to the impoverished North, which has teetered at the brink of famine since the mid-1990s. However, he says Lee will probably change how the aid is given.

"We will continue humanitarian aid, particularly for those who deserve it most - the elderly, the sick, and the young," he said. "But there must be a much more stringent monitoring system in place."

Hahm Sung-deuk, professor of political economy at Korea University in Seoul, says the Lee administration will reach out to the United States.

"South Korea's resources have very limited power to change North Korea's attitudes, particularly toward nuclear weapons," said Hahm. "Therefore, I strongly believe Lee Myung-bak will make a better relationship toward the United States."

Kongdan Oh, a senior specialist in North Korean security issues at the U.S.-based Institute for Defense Analyses, says Lee will work hard to mend Seoul-Washington ties, which were strained by President Roh's approach to North Korea.

She also predicts Seoul will adjust its approach to special South Korean project zones in North Korea, especially an industrial park in the city of Kaesong. Oh says Lee views South Korean government subsidies to Kaesong investors as excessive.

"We have to teach them how to fish, instead of giving them the fish all the time - that's what he said," she said. "So I think he will introduce so-called basic principles of the market."

President-Elect Lee is expected to scrutinize a list of agreements made at an October summit between President Roh and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Experts say Lee will want the projects to derive most of their funding from the private sector - not the South Korean taxpayer.