SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Park Geun-hye promises to reach out to North Korea with more humanitarian aid and deeper engagement after she moves into South Korea's presidential Blue House on Feb. 25. Pyongyang, however, may be in no mood to talk anytime soon.
Park's declarations ahead of Wednesday's election that she will soften five years of hard-line policy rang true with voters, even as they rejected her opponent's calls for a more aggressive pursuit of reconciliation with the North.
A skeptical North Korea may quickly test the sincerity of Park's offer to engage — possibly even before she takes office. She is both a leading member of the conservative ruling party and the daughter of the late anti-communist dictator Park Chung-hee, and Pyongyang has repeatedly called her dialogue offers "tricks."
Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak's tough approach on North Korea — including his demand that engagement be accompanied by nuclear disarmament progress — has been deemed a failure by many South Koreans. During his five years in office, North Korea has conducted nuclear and rocket tests — including a rocket launch last week — and it was blamed for two incidents that left 50 South Koreans dead in 2010.
But reaching out to North Korea's authoritarian government also has failed to pay off. Before Lee, landmark summits under a decade of liberal governments resulted in lofty statements and photo ops in Pyongyang between then-leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean presidents, but the North continued to develop its nuclear weapons, which it sees as necessary defense and leverage against Washington and Seoul.
Analysts said Park's vague promises of aid and engagement are not likely to be enough to push Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions, which Washington and Seoul have demanded for true reconciliation to begin. To reverse the antipathy North Korea has so far shown her, Park may need to go further than either her deeply conservative supporters and political allies or a cautious Obama administration will want.