South Korea’s presidential front-runner, Park Geun-hye, promised on Monday a new policy of engagement with Pyongyang and said she would be willing to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
In an apparent effort to distance herself from the hardline policy of current president Lee Myung-bak, who belongs to the same ruling conservative party, Park said she would seek a more “balanced” relationship with Pyongyang.
“Various channels of dialogue must be kept open to build trust. I will meet North Korea’s leader if it is needed to develop relations between the two Koreas,” Park told reporters.
“We should forgo an era of division and confrontation to open a new era of peace and harmony,” she said, while stressing that Pyongyang should desist from any military provocation and halt its nuclear programme.
“North Korea’s nuclear weaponry must not be tolerated. We must strengthen our deterrence to neutralise North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” she said.
Park, the daughter of South Korea’s late military strongman Park Chung-hee, said she would open liaison offices in Seoul and Pyongyang is she was elected, to promote social, economic and cultural exchanges.
She also stressed that humanitarian cooperation between the two Koreas should be delinked from politics.
When Lee came to power in 2008, he cut off aid to the impoverished North, saying future food and other shipments would be conditional on progress over the nuclear issue.
Cross-border ties have been icy since Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing one of its warships in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives. The North denied involvement but went on to shell a South Korean border island in November of the same year.
Park, who currently leads opinion polls for the December 19 presidential election, also said she would deal “sternly” with territorial disputes in Northeast Asia.
The remark was a clear reference to a decades-long row with Japan over a set of isolated islands – called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan – which are controlled by South Korea but claimed by both countries.
The dispute boiled over in August when President Lee made a surprise visit to the islands – a move Tokyo condemned as deliberately provocative.