South Korea’s President-elect Park Geun-hye has said that North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket last week is a major security concern that underlines the urgency for more diplomacy with its communist neighbour.
“North Korea’s long-range missile launch showed how grave the security reality is that we are faced with,” Park said at a press conference on Thursday, a day after she won a historic election, which made her the country’s first female leader.
“I will definitely keep my promise to open a new era of the Korean peninsula through strong security and diplomacy on the basis of mutual trust,” the 60-year old conservative leader said.
During the campaign, both Park and her main challenger Moon Jae-in offered competing commitment to improve ties with Pyongyang and its new leader Kim Jong-un.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Chaibong Hahm of the Asian Institute for Policy Studies said he was confident Park would follow up on her election promise.
“She’s been very principled, resolute, and once she says she’s going to do something, she always keeps to it,” Hahm said. “Sometimes to the detriment of public support for her.”
At the same time, Park said she would not tolerate the North’s nuclear weapons programme, reflecting what political analyst Moon Chung-in described to Al Jazeera as the new leader’s more cautious policy for negotiations based on some “pre-conditions”.
On the face of it, North Korea is in no mood for compromise, according to Reuters news agency analysts Jack Kim and David Chance.
“It has declared it will not ditch its nuclear weapons capacity, which it recently termed ‘treasured’,” Kim and Chance wrote.
“It pushed ahead with a rocket launch that is banned under UN resolutions imposed in the wake of its 2006 and 2009
nuclear tests as the South got ready to vote.”
Park herself has become a target for Pyongyang’s propaganda machine which has denounced Lee’s five year rule as bringing “nightmare, despair, (and) catastrophe”.
In 2002, during a thaw in relations, Park met Kim Jong-il, the father of the latest Kim to rule the isolated state that in
2010 sank a South Korean naval vessel and shelled a South Korean island.
When she met him, Park declared the man – who later propelled North Korea to become what it calls a “nuclear weapons power” – to be someone “who would keep his word”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Kwang Ho-chun, of the University of Central Lancashire, said Park’s previous meeting with North Korean officials could be crucial in future talks.
“She is only one of the few conservative politicians in South Korea who already met North Korean leaders,” Kwang said.
“So that puts her in a better position than the outgoing president [Lee Myung-bak]”, who alienated the North with a hardline stance, Kwang added.
Still there is lingering mistrust as Park’s own mother, Yuk Young-soo died at the age of 49 in 1974 from the bullet of a pro-North Korean assassin meant for her husband, military dictator Park Chung-hee.