No one should take pleasure in seeing another person worry about losing his job, but there is much to celebrate about how Lee Myung-Bak’s new administration is shaping up. Some doubt is now cast on earlier reports that the UniFiction Ministry would be abolished, although it’s clear that its size and influence will be reduced dramatically. Its days as a foreign policy player are over, and the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) will regain its foreign policy monopoly, including over relations with North Korea.
“In evaluating the past five years, the ministry admitted there had been no visible reforms in the North and that their policies had lacked effectiveness,” said Lee Dong-gwan, the transition team’s spokesman. [Joongang Ilbo]
Remind you of anything? Start at 6:45 of this clip.
President Roh is upset, claiming that the transition team has behaved in a “coercive” manner. That would be unfortunate if true, but Roh is hardly in a position to complain. Just five years ago, Roh’s own “Taliban,” a/k/a “Red Guards,” swept into the Blue House and conducted what sounds very much like Maoist criticism sessions against alleged “pro-Americans,” followed by a bloodless purge of the MOFAT. By the beginning of 2004, the second year of Roh’s term, the factional tension between the Red Guards and pro-American moderates had reached such a state that Roh’s moderate Foreign Minister was forced out:
President Roh Moo-hyun’s personnel secretary said Roh accepted the resignation of Yoon Young-kwan, a pro-US moderate who leaves at a pivotal moment in multinational efforts to resolve a crisis over North Korea’s suspected nuclear arms programmes. Jeong Chan-yong said in a statement Mr Yoon had resigned to take responsibility for failing to guide foreign policy in line with directives from Mr Roh’s year-old administration. Foreign policy analysts said there was little doubt Roh had dumped Yoon.
“Some Foreign Ministry staff were unable to shed the past foreign policy and failed to adequately understand the basic spirit of the new independent foreign policy advocated by the People’s Participatory Government,” Jeong told reporters. [Reuters, 16 Jan 04]
So it comes around. The UniFiction Ministry is just one of several that might be eliminated, incidentally.
The Hankroyeh pleads for the preservation of UniFiction, a sentiment that probably comes to the Hanky editorialists honestly, though they might have mentioned that UniFiction has been one of the left-wing paper’s main sponsors and filled its margins with expensive-looking click-through ads for the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Roh’s government had already been doing what it could to help the Hankyoreh double its readership. For what it’s worth, it seems to have worked; the Hanky’s editing and content have improved. It would be a shame — and I’m mostly sincere when I say this — if the Hanky couldn’t make it without the support of a like-minded government.
Lee’s people are also reviewing aid to North Korea and joint projects that are really disguised aid. For now, don’t expect established projects like Kaesong and Kumgang to go away, although they might if nuclear diplomacy with North Korea continues to deteriorate. Humanitarian aid will go on as before (though there’s reason to hope for better monitoring eventually), projects that are profitable to South Korea will also go on, but large-scale projects, such as the construction of
invasion routes infrastructure inside North Korea and a “peace zone” in the Yellow Sea appear to be doomed. For more details, see:
- Hankyoreh: President-elect’s team tells Unification Ministry to slow inter-Korean economic projects
- Hankyoreh: New administration links N. Korea denuclearization to inter-Korean economic cooperation
- Chosun Ilbo: Lee Gov’t to Postpone Some Inter-Korean Mega Projects
Another project likely to get the axe is a proposed shipyard to be built in North Korea, about which a reader e-mailed several days ago. Lee is also likely to put an expansion of Kaesong on hold.
Oddly enough, Lee is now saying he intends to drive on with a gulag archipelago of his own at Nadeul Island. My default position is obviously skeptical, but there is one important difference between Nadeul and Kaesong: Nadeul would be on South Korean soil. There are two ways that could pan out. One is that the North Korean regime would be allowed to send minders to control the workers and collect their paychecks for them. That would foreclose the possibility of meaningful openness, since Nadeul would become a functional North Korean enclave, perhaps even complete with loudspeakers and piped-in propaganda on the loudspeakers, like Kaesong. If we were reasonably certain that the workers’ pay would go to their personal use rather than Kim Jong Il’s missile projects, and if meaningful contact between northerners and southereners were possible, it would be fair to describe such an arrangement as a legitimate experiment in reform. There is such a thing as good engagement; I just doubt that North Korea would ever accept it.
The new administration is also resetting South Korea’s foreign policy priorities, including rebuilding good relations with both political parties in America, and perhaps even reforming Roh’s see-no-evil policies on human rights up north:
“There is a need for the Foreign Ministry to recast itself,” Lee Dong-gwan said. “The Foreign Ministry itself reflected [today] upon the past five years. The ministry admitted that there has been a lack of consultation between South Korea and the United States. The spokesman also said that the transition team pointed out inconsistencies regarding the North Korean human rights situation.
The Foreign Ministry also suggested strategic goals for the new administration. They included strengthening traditional alliances, such as those between Seoul and Washington, while looking to increase Korean diplomacy in the Asian region and striving to secure energy resources. [Joongang Ilbo]
To that end, Lee, Park Jin, and other Lee advisors met with current and former U.S. officials, including:
Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Korea; former Defense Secretary William Perry; ex-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; former U.S. Congressman Steven Sola[r]z; Robert Gallucci, who was the chief U.S. negotiator during the first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994 and former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith were among the Americans at the meeting. [Joongang Ilbo]
Solarz, by the way, is a long-time liberal Democratic congressman from New York and a member of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (Solarz is also an electrifying speaker who speaks contemporanously, yet with remarkable erudition, and with almost no notes.) More at The Hankyoreh. Topics of discussion, aside from bilateral relations and North Korean nukes, included plenty that had dropped off the Bush Administration’s radar recently: human rights, refugees, and even the future of Kaesong.
If you sense a more optimistic tone in this post than I’d expressed before, here’s why: Park Jin clearly looks like he’s going to be Lee Myung-Bak’s next Foreign Minister. I’m lukewarm about the President-Elect, but I’m enthusiastic about Park, whom I profiled in this post in 2005. Park is a serious thinker, highly intelligent, fluent in English, and well acquainted with Americans who make our Korea policy. If anyone can rebuild relations between the United States and Korea — at least as much as popular opinion would still support — it’s Park. Park’s previous statements on North Korea, refugees, and human rights also give us great encouragement. It’s probably the best news of the entire election.