Will the recent North Korea’s nuclear test affect Park’s Engagement Policy?


Park Geun-hye, the first female president of South Korea, faces an additional enormous struggle at a start of her presidency by the North Korea’s detonation of an underground nuclear device that took place on February 12, 2013.


During the presidency campaign, Park introduced a very determined engagement policy with North Korea that was meant to lessen the tension that has been growing between the two Koreas for last five years. It is now questionable whether she would turn to the old Lee Myung Bak’s approach of the tough and rigid policy her fellow conservative predecessor chose to implement. Her decision will play an extremely critical role in influencing the diplomatic relations of U.S., China and Japan with North Korea and the methods they will take to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions.


Again, it is clear that the division and the tension on the Korea Peninsula is not merely a domestic, but an international issue which will affect both the superpowers and the non-superpowers. Victor Cha, Director of the Asian Studies program in Georgetown, stated that “The overall policy direction on North Korea among the U.S., Japan and South Korea will be [Park Geun-hye] to decide”.


This nuclear test clearly signifies a violation to the council resolutions and is a threat to international peace. The South Korean Foreign Minister, Kim Sung Hwan says the council will work “on appropriate measures in a Security Council resolution” and promised “significant action,” if another nuclear test takes place. The U.N. Security Council, along with the world leaders across the globe, severely condemned this nuclear test. Korean Central News Agency stated that the purpose of the test was “to defend the country’s security and sovereignty in the face of the ferocious hostile act of the U.S.” and “if the U.S. continues with their hostility and complicates the situation, it would be inevitable to continuously conduct a stronger second or third measure.” So, some analysts have said that this provocative act signifies a foreign policy challenge for the U.S. president, Barack Obama.


During Park’s inauguration speech, she took a firm stand by saying “North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself…I will not tolerate any action that threatens the lives of our people and the security of our nation.”


However, Park says she won’t change her policy despite the concerns and doubts about the plausibility of her engagement policy. Park acknowledges the South Koreans have been unhappy and frustrated with the current state between the two Koreas under Lee Myung Bak’s rule as they saw two nuclear tests, three long-range rocket launches and the sinking of the South Korean navy that killed nearly 50 South Koreans in 2010. She urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions for peace and mutual development. Furthermore, she emphasized that “trust can be built through dialogue and honoring promises, which will allow the trust-building process on the Korean peninsula”.

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