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Publication Date : 31-10-2012
During his visit here earlier this month, Glyn Davies, US special envoy for North Korea policy, took time out of his official schedule for talks with foreign ministry officials to hold a series of informal meetings with diplomatic and security advisers to the three major presidential candidates.
According to diplomatic sources and aides to the presidential contenders, the US envoy sought to grasp what policy initiatives the next administration in Seoul would take toward Pyongyang in the two days of contacts that went largely unnoticed by the news media.
One of the advisers who met Davies said the US point man on North Korea had wanted to know the "substance" of diplomatic and security pledges made by the presidential candidates. He said he had been impressed by the US official's questions.
In a news conference wrapping up his visit, Davies urged North Korea to abide by its obligations under a 2005 agreement reached at six-party negotiations also involving South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. In a belated response to his remark, Pyongyang claimed Washington also reneged on its part of the agreement, denouncing the US for stepping up military threats and economic sanctions against it.
The US envoy's wish for a concrete understanding of diplomatic and security policies to be pushed by the next South Korean government may well be understood by many voters here, who have heard little from the presidential contenders about how they would handle inter-Korean matters and relations with neighbouring powers.
Security issues have been pushed to the back burner as attempts at winning voter support with welfare pledges and attacks on personal history have characterised the campaigns of the three candidates - Rep. Park Geun-hye of the conservative ruling party, Rep. Moon Jae-in of the liberal main opposition party and software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo, who is running as an independent.
They have made little mention on their long-term visions and strategies of stabilising the security environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula and laying the groundwork for the eventual unification of the two Koreas.
The only security issue subjected to heated discussion in recent days is the matter of keeping the maritime border in the West Sea, which North Korea refuses to recognise. The ruling camp has been trying to drive Moon into a corner by raising suspicion that late President Roh Moo-hyun made remarks undermining the legitimacy of the sea border, called the Northern Limit Line, during his 2007 summit talks with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. Moon, who served as chief of staff for Roh at that time, rejected the allegation, while proposing a more concilliatory approach to easing tensions along the NLL such as setting up a joint fishing ground.
It is worrisome that the presidential candidates seem to lack concrete and far-sighted policies on foreign affairs and security, considering they would face - from the first day in office - a number of crucial tasks for maintaining national interests amid escalating rivalry between the US and China, territorial disputes in Northeast Asia and the uncertain future of the unpredictable regime in Pyongyang.
The coming leadership changes among key powers involved in peninsular issues may also make it more challenging and complicated for whoever succeeds President Lee Myung-bak in February to chart the future course for the country. About a week after the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6, the new Chinese leadership will walk on to the stage at the end of the communist party's congress, with Japan set to hold general elections within months.
The presidential candidates are urged to depart from their preoccupation with domestic agenda and set their sights on the security challenges and global tasks the nation will face during their possible presidency and beyond. It is hoped that the presidential debate on foreign affairs, security and unification, set for early December, will be a stage for presenting their clear visions and strategies persuasive to voters.