Lee Myung-bak’s “neo-engagement policy” toward NK

1 04 2008


After reading my article “President Lee Myung-bak’s North Korea Policy”, Professor Tae-Hwan Kwak wrote to the Nautilus Institute:

Mr. Petrov’s analysis of Lee Myung-bak’s North Korea policy is very informative and penetrating. I do agree on many of his major arguments.

In my view, Lee’s “pragmatic” North Korea policy based on some principles of South Korea’s previous governments’ engagement policy toward North Korea (i.e., the Sunshine Policy by President Kim and Peace and Co-prosperity by President Roh) does not totally reject the previous governments’ engagement policy toward the DPRK, but Lee’s major goals are the same, but he is using different policy instruments to achieve his goals.

It appears that a hard-line policy toward North Korea will not work. “Conditional economic incentives” in the “3000 Vision” initiative may not induce the DPRK to speed up the North Korea’s denuclearization process, but North Korea should not perceive them as Lee’s hard-line policy. In my view, Lee’ s new North Korea policy may be called as “neo-engagement policy” toward North Korea. It favors denuclearization and does not support a hard-line policy or “disengagement”. Therefore, the DPRK should correctly read Lee’s new policy toward it, and its cooperative behavior will insure Chairman Kim Jong Il’s best interests.

Dr. Tae-Hwan Kwak

Former President, Korea Institute for National Unification and
Professor Emeritus, Eastern Kentucky University

– Professor Kwak’s opinion is very interesting and insightful. Lee Myung-bak’s North Korea policy might look novel and may be dubbed the “neo-engagement”. However we should not forget that everything “new” is just a well forgotten “old”. Lee is risking to simply repeat the containment policy of former ROK President Kim Yong-sam. By emphasising the importance of ROK-US alliance and putting inter-Korean relations on a conditional footing (as it was in the mid-1990s), Seoul’s hard-won influence over Pyongyang soon will be forfeit to Washington. I don’t want to say that it will be a catastrophe (particularly if the new administration in Washington decides to cooperate with the DPRK) but it will certainly diminish Seoul’s influence upon future developments.


Here is a comment from Prof. Kim Myong Chol from the Centre for Korean American Peace in Japan:

Dear Mr. Leonid Petrov,

I have found your article in the March 9-13 Korea Times the best article proposing the most working solution to the nuclear crisis between the DPRK and the US. I express total endorsement to your article. I have found your article so good that I have referred it to Ambassador Pak Kil Yon in New York.

In my Feb 22 talk at Clumbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute, I stated: “The iron rule of the nuclear agreement is action for action. The DPRK has disabled 90% of the nuclear facility and provided a list of the nuclear program, but the DPRK has received mere one fifth of the promised oil supply and has see no sign of its removal from the US terror list. We see no good reason to move farther. The US is in material breach of the nuclear agreement. We cannot trust the US and we see no good reason to reduce or renounce the nuclear weapons. We will continue building up the nuclear deterrence.”
One State Department official attended my talk. On March 6, Hill gave a talk at the same institute.

Best Regards,
Kim Myong Chol
Centre for Korean American Peace




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