Analysis: North Korea a looming problem for whoever wins South vote

Sun Dec 9, 2012 4:19pm EST
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By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Whoever wins South Korea's December 19 presidential election will likely find that spiky and unpredictable North Korea is as ready to strike as it is to negotiate.

The main contenders in the South's election have said they would hold talks with Kim Jong-un, the youthful ruler of one of the world's most heavily armed states, in a bid to end the chill that has descended on relations under South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, whose mandatory single term ends in February.

But the "military first" policy of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has outlived him and analysts say the South's next president could find his son, the third member of his family to rule, just as wily and hard to deal with.

Conservative candidate Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee, says she wants to build a new "trustpolitik" between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war after an armistice ended their 1950-53 conflict.

Her main challenger, left winger Moon Jae-in, has pledged unconditional talks with the North and aid.

During his 17-year rule, Kim Jong-il took $450 million worth of government and private-sector aid from South Korea under the South's Sunshine Policy, aimed at buying peace on the peninsula.

But while taking the aid, the North pushed ahead with developing nuclear weapons and missile programs.

"However things work out, it tends to be the North that sets the agenda," said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in the South Korean capital, 30 km (20 miles) from the frontier separating the prosperous South from the North, whose economy is just a fortieth the size of the South's.   Continued...

Anti-North Korean activists from conservative and right wing civic groups burn defaced North Korean flags and a portrait of the North's leader Kim Jong-Un during a rally denouncing the North's plan for rocket launch in Seoul December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won