This blog has followed Park Geun Hye’s Truspolitik since its hopeful inception in a widely-read Foreign Affairs piece and a major speech in November 2012 through its subsequent highs, and mostly lows (all Trustpolitik posts can be found here). Yet we were nonetheless surprised that the most vehement reaction to the satellite launch and nuclear test has come out of Seoul, capsulized in the Kaesong closure and President Park’s defense of her actions in an important speech before the national assembly (reproduced in full below).
The speech reflects an occupational hazard of dealing with North Korea: frustration. After detailing her efforts to build bridges to the North, she comes to the key pivot not only in her speech but in her administration: that “it has now become indisputably clear that the existing approach and good intentions will by no means work in countering the North Korean regime’s determination to develop nuclear weapons, but will only lead to the enhancement of the North’s nuclear capabilities, with catastrophic implications for the Korean Peninsula.” Arguing that South Korea could not allow Kaesong to continue as it was simultaneously seeking additional measures from the UN, Park promised to use the flush Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund to compensate the losers and help firms relocate their operations. (Links to posts on the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund here: parts I, II, III and IV.)
The most controversial parts of the speech were the calls for complete unity on the issue and the suggestion that opponents of her policy constitute a fifth column putting the country’s very existence at risk (“Against the backdrop of ever-rising levels of tension caused by the North`s provocations, enduring internal divisions and strife would inevitably lead to existential peril for the Republic of Korea.”) the speech ends weakly, as Park sought to use the sense of crisis to urge passage of service sector reform that has been hung up in the National Assembly over its possible effects on the health care secor (a useful 2013 report from McKinsey places the reforms in wider context).
President Park’s tough response to the test was not limited to the closure of Kaesong. Without doubt the most significant strategic move is aimed squarely at China: the decision to open negotiations with the US on deploying THAAD. As Shannon Tiezzi notes in commentary in The Japan Times, Beijing’s response to the THAAD discussions was more alarmed than their response to the fourth test itself. Yet another signal was sent to Beijing by the swift rejection of the Chinese proposal to open negotiations on a peace regime, raised by Wang Yi himself during a press conference on the 17th with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. (Hankyoreh’s positive coverage of the proposal here).
Will any of this work? It is doubtful, but if so, it will only be following a long march through a period of escalation. The range of asymmetric threats that North Korea can wield are many, including more tests, probes along the DMZ and Northern Limit Line, cyber attacks and even terrorism in South Korea itself. Fasten your seatbelts.
Address by President Park Geun-hye to the National Assembly on State Affairs
February 16, 2016
Fellow Koreans, Honorable Speaker and members of the National Assembly,
Today, I stand here to explain the government’s measures to address the public’s anxiety and sense of crisis, as tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalate in the wake of North Korea’s nuclear test and missile launch. I also want to call upon the National Assembly to cooperate and stand with us in our efforts.
Despite repeated objections and warnings from our Government and the international community, North Korea pushed ahead with its fourth nuclear test at the dawn of the New Year, directly defying hopes for peace not only on the Korean Peninsula but in the rest of the world.
Amidst international condemnation and ongoing discussions about further sanctions, North Korea launched yet another ballistic missile and is declaring that it would conduct additional nuclear tests and missile launches. This extremely provocative behavior manifests the North’s disregard for the peace desired by the international community.
If events continue to run their current course, the runaway Kim Jong-un regime would proceed to deploy nuclear missiles on the field, and we would be in for even more anxiety and fear.
North Korea has carried out countless provocations to date.
As recently as 2010, the North sank the naval ship Cheonan, taking the precious lives of 46 of our sailors, and waged a direct armed attack on our territory by shelling Yeonpyeong Island. Again in August of last year, it carried out landmine and artillery attacks at the Demilitarized Zone.
Notwithstanding such provocations, we have put forth continued efforts to do what we could to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula by changing the North and establish mutually beneficial South-North relations.
Having placed my governing priorities on embedding peace and laying the foundation for unification on the Korean Peninsula, I have been making every effort to prevent tensions from breaking out on the Peninsula.
From the outset of my Administration, I announced as our guiding policy the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, which is aimed at promoting inter-Korean confidence on the one hand, while refusing to accept a nuclear North Korea and responding more firmly to provocations.
In March 2014, I put forward the Dresden Declaration, proposing to build together three major inter-Korean corridors that would support the livelihood of the people, culture and the environment.
Even when inter-Korean tensions spiked last August, my Administration was committed to resolving the issues by holding the South-North high-level meeting.
We have also been engaging in healthcare programs targeting vulnerable North Koreans by providing 38.2 billion won to such international organizations as UNICEF and WHO and 3.2 billion won to fund projects by non-governmental entities.
Last October, our experts visited Mt. Geumgang at Pyongyang’s request to conduct a forest pest control project. A joint archeological survey and excavation program has been underway at Manwoldae in Gaeseong, seeking to restore our sense of common identity as Koreans. In addition, the Government has been extending active support for a range of non-governmental exchanges and cooperation.
In August of last year, we started construction work to reconnect the southern side of the Gyeongwon railroad line. In addition, an inter-Korean economic cooperation initiative to spur industrial development in North Korea has been steadily under consideration.
Looking back, total government aid to North Korea since the mid-1990s surpasses US$2.2 billion, while the figure exceeds US$3 billion when including non-government assistance.
However, the North has responded to such efforts and assistance from our Government with nuclear tests and missile launches, and now it is causing consternation across the world with its claims regarding a hydrogen bomb test.
It has now become indisputably clear that the existing approach and good intentions will by no means work in countering the North Korean regime’s determination to develop nuclear weapons, but will only lead to the enhancement of the North’s nuclear capabilities, with catastrophic implications for the Korean Peninsula.
We can no longer afford to be pushed around by North Korea’s deceit and intimidation. Gone are the days when we caved in to the North’s provocations and unconditionally pumped aid into the North.
Now is the time for us to find a fundamental solution to bringing about real change in the North and muster the courage to achieve that end.
The international community is now speaking out with one voice in denouncing North Korea’s provocations.
Since the North’s fourth nuclear test, more than 100 countries have already joined in condemning Pyongyang’s provocation. As criticism reverberates more powerfully in the wake of the recent launch of a long-range missile, the United Nations Security Council is discussing the toughest and most effective sanctions resolution ever on North Korea.
Recently, the U.S. Congress, with a swiftness rarely seen, passed a stand-alone bill to impose crippling sanctions on North Korea. Japan and the European Union are also taking steps to impose tough sanctions on the North and some countries are even reconsidering their diplomatic ties with the North.
All these moves are indicative of the strong determination of the international community that it would no longer countenance the extreme behavior of the Kim Jong-un regime.
Even as the nations of the world are thus endeavoring to deal with the North’s provocations, it is the Republic of Korea that would be the primary victim of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles, as well as the party with the most at stake.
North Korea has time and again threatened us with the mention of nuclear attack, whenever inter-Korean relations have become frayed.
Starting with the threat to reduce Seoul into a “sea of fire” in 1994, North Korea has continued to blackmail us by invoking the use of nuclear weapons, including “rain of nuclear fire,” “nuclear holocaust,” “nuclear attack,” “nuclear war” and “nuclear retaliatory strike.”
We have lived far too long under the shadow of the North’s intimidation that we have admittedly become somewhat blithe about our security. Because we are one nation destined to be reunified, perhaps we have been burying our heads in the sand in the face of the uncomfortable reality that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are aimed at none other than us.
We must cast away our incredulous nonchalance and the helplessness that comes from depending solely on the international community for sanctions. Now, we must spearhead strong international coordination and look to ourselves to mobilize every possible means to resolve the problem.
The Government’s latest decision to completely shut down the operation of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex is predicated on the recognition of the gravity of the situation and of the need to block the flow of foreign currencies into the North if we are to prevent it from upgrading its nuclear and missile capabilities.
As you know, a total of 616 billion won in cash has been paid in dollars through the Gaeseong Industrial Complex to date, with 132 billion won having flowed into North Korea just last year alone.
Instead of being used to improve the lives of the North Korean people, it has been found that most of that money is being funneled into the leadership of the Workers` Party, which oversees the North`s nuclear and missile development.
We cannot allow the situation to persist where we are, in effect, inadvertently redounding to the North Korean regime’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
Indeed, many countries across the world are also joining in imposing sanctions against the North because of the belief that international aid is being channeled into maintaining the Kim Jong-un regime, rather than serving the needs of the North Korean people.
In addition, at a time when the international community is seeking to come up with tough sanctions to cut off the flow of cash into the North, it is only right for the South, as the party with the most at stake and in concert with the international community, to use every means to make the North give up its nuclear ambitions.
In making the recent decision to shut down the industrial complex, the Government attached the highest priority to ensuring the safe return of our business people and workers.
In 2013, when the North unilaterally suspended the operation of the complex, we had to make painstaking efforts to secure the safe return of the seven South Koreans who were virtually held hostage for about a month.
To prevent something similar from happening again and guarantee the safe return of our people in the shortest period of time, notifying the Government`s decision in advance was not an option, and we had no choice but to take emergency measures.
In order to minimize losses to our businesses, the Government came up with plans to help take out goods and equipment and called on the North for its cooperation. As expected, however, the North forced South Koreans to leave in just about half an hour, closed the complex and froze the assets of our businesses. This was nothing short of throwing away the hard-earned fruits of our businesses like an old shoe.
I, too, regret very deeply that our businesses had to leave behind their facilities, raw materials and stock of and stock of products.
However, the Government decided that enough was enough: we should no longer spend sleepless nights worrying about the security of our people in Gaeseong every time the North makes a provocation; we should no longer allow the hard work of our businesses to be sacrificed for the sake of maintaining the North Korean regime.
The Government will reimburse the investments of businesses that have set up shop in Gaeseong and provide active support so that their business operations can be normalized in the near future.
We will tap into the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Fund insurance and swiftly disburse up to 90 percent of the amount invested into the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.
The Government will also work with the business community to help find alternative factory sites and secure needed funding and labor.
Moreover, the Government will prepare separate measures to address losses incurred from production setbacks and others.
The Government is currently running a joint inter-agency task force to provide one-on-one services to individual firms and will make sure expeditious and substantive support is provided.
The complete shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex represents just the beginning of a range of measures we will be taking in the period ahead, in cooperation with the international community.
From this moment on, the Government will employ tougher and more effective measures to create an environment in which the North keenly realizes that nuclear development does not offer the path to survival but will merely hastens the regime’s collapse, and therefore has no choice but to change of its own volition.
In the process, solidarity with our ally the United States, as well as trilateral cooperation with the United States and Japan, will be enhanced. We will also continue to attach importance to working together with China and Russia.
Given the firm consensus among the five parties on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, these countries also have no desire to see the Peninsula plunge into a state of tension and crisis due to the North`s nuclear provocations. Going forward, the Government will focus its diplomacy on translating this consensus into action.
But no matter how strong and effective the sanctions turn out to be, those measures will only start to truly work when our country stands its ground and is resolved to steadfastly see those sanctions through to the very end, and when our people stand united behind those efforts.
In the meantime, the North might stir chaos with various kinds of provocative acts and step up its propaganda and agitation in order to sow divisions and split public opinion within the South.
It is at times like these that the solidarity of our people and the united strength of the National Assembly becomes all the more important as the only way to counter the North`s intentions.
Unfortunately, some in our society, quite lamentably, are resorting to various conspiracy theories to the effect that “the North Korean threat is being peddled for political gain,” instead of focusing on the North`s provocative nuclear test and missile launch, which after all is the cause.
If we end up being swayed, we would only be playing into North Korea’s hands.
At a time when the least we could do is stand united in condemning the North`s reckless provocations and making North Korea’s brash regime give up its nuclear ambitions, turning against our own with the tip of the sword and fueling internal division is the last thing we should be doing.
When the water level rises, even a small rupture could cause a dam’s collapse.
Against the backdrop of ever-rising levels of tension caused by the North`s provocations, enduring internal divisions and strife would inevitably lead to existential peril for the Republic of Korea.
When faced with a crisis of security, there can be no ruling or opposition party, no conservative or progressive. The security of the nation and the safety of the people cannot and must not be subject to political bickering.
What the people have delegated to the political realm is the task of safeguarding the country and the people in the face of danger; not the right to choose what the danger is.
The string of ruthless purges of high-ranking officials including Jang Song-thaek, Ri Yong-ho and Hyon Yong-chol, underscores how the North Korean regime is holding on to power by taking the reign of terror to extremes.
We need to be thoroughly prepared because North Korea’s provocations defy prediction and there is no knowing what radical actions it might take.
Now, more than ever, what is necessary are the solemn determination and unity of the people to protect our country and the unwavering devotion of our military to serving the country.
My fellow citizens,
Come what may, I will safeguard the Republic of Korea and our people.
I earnestly ask all of you to have faith in the Government’s resolve and response and to marshal our collective strength.
The Government will henceforth be fully prepared to deal with all manner of provocations that might come from the North’s unpredictability and capriciousness.
The Government is making sure our military readiness posture is solid and is also making thorough preparations for nonmilitary provocations including cyber- attacks and acts of terrorism in public places.
To maintain robust deterrence against the North, the Government is enhancing the Korea-U.S. combined defense capability and engaging in consultations with the United States to improve our alliance’s missile defense posture. The start of formal consultations to deploy the THAAD system to US Forces Korea, as announced on February 7, is also part of these efforts.
Honorable Speaker and members of the National Assembly,
There is no knowing when or how North Korea would carry out a reckless act of provocation, and the safety our people is vulnerable to a wide range of dangers, including terrorism.
To protect the lives of our people and make them secure, I call upon you to pass as soon as possible the anti-terrorism bill, as I have appealed to this body time and again, as well as the North Korean Human Rights Act, which is aimed at countering the violation of human rights in the North.
I ask the chosen representatives of the people to heed the voice of the people.
Honorable Speaker and members of the National Assembly,
I am sure you have not forgotten the solemn oath you took before the people when you first stood here as their chosen representatives:
“…I shall observe the Constitution, endeavor to promote the freedom and welfare of the people and the peaceful unification of the fatherland, put the nation’s interest first, and perform faithfully the duties of a member of the National Assembly.”
Undaunted by the coldest spell in 15 years, more than one million citizens took a moment of their busy travel schedules to their hometowns, to join in signing the petition for legislation to improve the livelihood of the people.
This is a testament to the people’s desperate yearning for unity so we could overcome the difficulties that lie before us as soon as possible.
I trust that you, as members of the National Assembly, have returned from your Lunar New Year travels to every corner of the country, clearly attuned to the real concerns of ordinary people about our economy.
Much as you have promised to improve the lot of low income families and lift the fortunes of your districts, I once again urge you to live up to that promise by passing without delay the bills to revitalize our economy and improve the livelihood of the people.
It has already been more than three and a half years since the Basic Law on Service Industry Development was submitted.
Nurturing the service industry is not a matter of choice but a matter of survival, for the renewal of our economy and the future of our younger generation depend upon it.
In the midst of persistent low growth around the world, the fact of the matter is that continuing to rely on manufacturing and exports, much as we have in the past, can no longer guarantee the growth of our economy.
The service industry is the treasure trove of jobs.
It can create twice as many jobs as the manufacturing sector and churn out as many as 690,000 decent jobs that are preferred by young Koreans in such fields as tourism, medical care, finance, education and culture.
According to 2013-2014 data released by the OECD, developed countries that have achieved an employment rate of over 70 percent all have well-developed service industries.
We can only achieve a 70 percent employment rate and genuinely join the ranks of advanced nations by nurturing the service industry.
Some voice concerns that the public nature of healthcare and medical services might be undermined, but this is a stretch too far and the concerns are unfounded.
The Basic Law on Service Industry Development submitted by the Government contains no provision that can undermine the public nature of healthcare and medical services.
The task of cultivating medical services into a strategic industry and creating high-quality jobs by harnessing our world-class medical professionals and infrastructure have suddenly been misrepresented as an attempt to ‘privatize medical services.’ The people are hard-pressed to understand why the bill has been left in abeyance at the National Assembly for over three and a half years.
No less urgent is the task of giving young people the hope that they will be able to find a career, protecting workers by creating a fail-safe social safety net and forming an employment ecosystem that is mutually beneficial for all.
Labor reform is about reforming for jobs. I urge this body to swiftly enact the four labor reform legislations.
Once again, I earnestly urge you to set aside biases about the bills that would actually allay the suffering of low-income families and reignite our economy, to think of the people and to pass these bills
I thank you for trusting in the Government and showing such aplomb in the face of threats from North Korea’s nuclear test and missile launch. It instills in the Government and me an ever greater sense of responsibility.
The Government and I will be sure to transform the North Korean regime so that the Korean Peninsula is suffused with genuine peace and the people in the North, too, can enjoy the freedom, human rights and fruits of prosperity that we enjoy today.
We will never turn a blind eye to the lives of the North Korean people who are suffering under misgovernment.
Greater challenges may await us on the path ahead, but as long as you stand by us and with us, I am confident we will succeed.
I ask all Koreans to marshal our collective strength to build a peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula and to achieve peaceful unification. I also ask the members of the National Assembly to actively work with us and join us in this endeavor.