| In her congratulatory speech on the occasion of Liberation Day on Friday, President Park Geun-hye made various pledges and suggestions regarding domestic issues and to North Korea and Japan. The keyword in her speech was request to normalize abnormalities. Park urged correction of wrongs and distortions that have accumulated from the past. She suggested the North to open channel of cooperation, channel of people뭩 livelihood and channel of culture. She also proposed a flurry of specific cooperation projects. With the main cooperation route blocked, she displayed agonies and endeavor to find a new breakthrough by opening up detour or smaller routes.
After inter-Korean relations were switched to a hardline stance towards Pyongyang by the Lee Myung-bak administration following the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette and artillery shelling on Yeonpyeong Island by the North, the ties remain unchanged under the Park administration. Without doubt the North is largely responsible, given that it has continued strife to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, and launched provocations, big and small, repeatedly. However, if the current structure of standoff continues, the South shall incur mounting defense cost, something that is hardly desirable. The South Korean government should not be blindly waiting for Pyongyang뭩 positive response. If Seoul makes no additional efforts after making such an offer, saying that it has no choice because "the North does not accept," it is no better than doing nothing. It should take specific measures, including offer to provide humanitarian assistance, which could bring about the North뭩 positive reaction.
Park also suggested Tokyo that Korea and Japan form a cooperation system with other neighboring countries, including China, on issues such as nuclear safety, rescue and recovery from disasters, response to climate change, and drug trafficking. She also proposed that Korea and Japan exert concerted efforts to make next year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Korea-Japan ties, as the first year to kick-off for their new future. President Park`s speech thus showed a huge difference from her address for last year뭩 Liberation Day, in which she strongly criticized Japan over past history. This year뭩 Liberation Day speech in general placed more emphasis on the future rather than the past.
Whether we like it or not, Japan is an important partner in our national security and economy. Park, who constantly maintained a hardline stance towards Japan, has sent a signal to improve relations with Tokyo by suggesting areas of cooperation, which both sides need and are implementable, separately from the issues of past history and territorial dispute. Once she sends overture, she needs to approach more proactively. If Korea and Japan are to achieve complete normalization of bilateral ties, Tokyo also must display significant change in its stance on the issue of past history.
On the domestic front, Park pledged that her administration will focus its efforts to lay a foundation for Korea to take a new leap forward through grand reform that corrects bad practices and deep-rooted evils, and to rekindle economic recovery and secure growth engines. However, it is regrettable that she stops short of presenting a specific "action plan" designed to make such goals attainable. In order to achieve goals, be it in domestic affairs or diplomacy, the president must display wisdom and enthusiasm.