The Korean peninsula is expected to enter a new phase as a result of leadership changes in 2012. South Korea will have a new president by the end of the year, and this is the first fiscal year for Kim Jong-un who assumed the supreme commandership of North Korea after his father’s sudden death in December 2011. In addition, the United States presidential election of 2012 will be held in November. Xi Jinping of China will succeed Hu Jintao as General Secretary and President. As six-party talks play a crucial role in determining the dynamics between South and North Koreas, all of these leadership changes should be taken into account when predicting the future of the peninsula. With the U.S. election being eight months ahead, now is the time to take a look at each candidate’s view on North Korea and how it can affect the South-North relationship in the future.
President Barack Obama, the current president, has been condemning and even warning North Korea after a few attacks it had posed to South Koreans. According to an article by Tong Kim, Visiting professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, the Obama administration fully supports the South Korean government’s policy on North Korea, a policy that will disconnect the North from the South unless North Koreans accept their full responsibility for the attack on the Cheonan and apologize for the incident. The sinking has strengthened the ROK-U.S. alliance during President Obama’s term.
Similarly, Mitt Romney is criticizing North Korea. He views the country as a rogue nation that threatens international peace and is against American interests and values. He has said that he would commit to eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons and its nuclear-weapons infrastructure. Furthermore, he said he would convince China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament. His potential policies include harsher sanctions on North Korea, such as cracking down on financial institutions that service the North Korean regime.
On the other hand, Ron Paul, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has voiced against this stringent policy, as it closes down a market for the United States. As he did in 2008, he contends that North Korea is not a threat to the U.S. In addition, through his website, Paul has said “Quite frankly, I think if we would not be in South Korea, which I have advocated for years, South Korea and North Korea probably would be unified and they would be westernized by now.”
Between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion worth of food and energy assistance. However, disagreements with the North Korean government led to an end to food aid in 2008. As it can be inferred from this incident, the United States plays an important role in North Korea’s decision making processes, and the view and values its president holds will heavily influence the North. The Korean Peninsula may truly face a different international state by the end of the year.