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Cablegate: Foreign Policy Outlook for South Korean


DE RUEHUL #2014/01 1860810
R 050810Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: South Korea's presidential candidates have
focused much of their campaign efforts on domestic and
economic issues. On foreign policy, from what we can glean
from public statements, debates, and meetings with foreign
policy advisors, one thing is certain: all of the candidates,
if elected, would uphold some level of engagement with North
Korea. The GNP contenders maintain the party's hard-line
stance towards North Korea in varying degrees and are strong
supporters of the U.S.-ROK alliance, but appear to be less
clear on other foreign policy issues. As President, GNP
front-runners Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye would both seek
a renegotiation of the transition of Wartime Operational
Control (OPCON), according to their advisors. The liberal
contenders, mostly from the ruling camp, have not clearly
articulated how to deal with the U.S.-ROK alliance and other
foreign powers such as China and Japan. Progressive Sohn
Hak-kyu would expand the Kaesong Industrial Complex across
the DMZ into South Korea. END SUMMARY.

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2. (U) The GNP candidates have consistently maintained a
strong lead over the progressive candidates, but the numbers
within the party have begun to fluctuate. The two
frontrunners, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, differ from
the underdogs in that they adhere closely to the GNP's
conservative stance on the DPRK and making the provision of
aid conditional to denuclearization. Two of the GNP
underdogs, lawmakers Won Hee-ryong and Go Jin-hwa, advocate
continuation of the engagement policy. All the GNP
candidates except lawmaker Hong Jun-pyo follow the GNP line
of fostering a stronger U.S.-ROK alliance; Hong argues for
strengthening the ROK's independence from the United States.
Former Seoul mayor and current frontrunner Lee's lead over
former GNP chair Park is now just under 8 percent, with 33.6
percent backing Lee and 25.9 percent backing Park, according
to a June 30 Joongang Ilbo poll, a mainstream South Korean


3. (U) Although both Lee and Park follow the official GNP
line on the DPRK, Lee has tried to differentiate himself from
Park by emphasizing economic solutions to resolve the nuclear
situation. During the GNP policy debate on June 19, he argued
that the ROK should help the DPRK achieve USD 3,000 per
capita GDP within 10 years in order to induce the DPRK to
denuclearize and open its doors. Lee called such an approach
the "Initiative of Denuclearization, Opening and USD 3000,"
also one of his seven-point campaign pledges on foreign
policy, dubbed the "MB Doctrine." Emphasizing that "economic
unification is the first step to eventual unification," he
called for "a principled North Korean policy that induces it
to open up."

4. (SBU) Lee also highlights that delivering food, fertilizer
and other types of aid cannot be a fundamental solution;
North Korea must be taught to be self-reliant. On June 18,
he announced another pledge for his North Korean policy -- to
build another 29.7 square-kilometer inter-Korean industrial
complex, coined Nadeul Island, near the Demilitarized Zone
(DMZ), in the Han river that bisects Seoul. During a June 25
meeting with Poloffs, Lee's Senior International Affairs
Officer Yim Sung-bin emphasized that the project would
combine the ROK's technology and the DPRK's labor, echoing
the rationale for the existing Kaesong Industrial Complex.

5. (SBU) Lee's International Affairs Officers Chris Yoo and
Yim Sung-bin asserted during the meeting that economic aid
and cooperation would be contingent upon North Korea taking
steps towards denuclearization. Although he is skeptical of
the engagement policy toward the North Korean regime, Lee
argues for the continuation of inter-Korean exchanges.
Visiting the Joint Security Area in the DMZ on June 11, Lee
proposed his plan for building a "Permanent Center for Family
Reunions" in Panmunjom. He maintained that his permanent
center would be more cost effective than the current family
reunions which are hosted in different places each time.

6. (SBU) Lee's main foreign policy pledge, the "MB Doctrine,"
also includes his goal to restore what he calls the "soured"
U.S.-ROK alliance and ties with neighboring and strategically
important Asian nations, Japan, China, Russia and India in
particular. Lee has stated in public multiple times that he
values the alliance and will build on the alliance as a
"backbone of the ROK security." However, as President, he
would seek a comprehensive renegotiation of the transition of
Wartime Operational Control (OPCON). He sees the timeline of
the transfer problematic, in particular. Meanwhile, Lee
would continue to pursue good relations with Japan and China
for business interests of Korean companies, according to Yim
and Yoo.


7. (SBU) Park Geun-hye's foreign policy pledges are more
conservative and hawkish toward the DPRK. Park has proposed
a reciprocal, action-for-action approach to denuclearization
and a three-phase unification blueprint: (1) "establishment
of peace and trust between two Koreas"; (2) "economic
reunification;" followed by (3) "political reunification."
Her plan, however, would not be implemented unless the DPRK
"dismantles and disables" all the nuclear weapons and
programs. She has continuously emphasized that a nuclear
North Korea will not be accepted and that the ROK should not
provide aid without the DPRK's reciprocity. She is skeptical
of the current regime's projects such as Kumgang Mountain
tourism and the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and sees
them as "cash cows" for propping up the regime, according to
Walter Paik, a close aide to Park. Meanwhile, she also lists
"dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and programs,"
"carrot-and-stick approach," and "multilateral approach by
cooperation among the Six-Party Talks members" in her "Three
Guiding Principles for Resolving the North Korean Nuclear

8. (SBU) Regarding the U.S.-ROK alliance, Park has called for
a "New Security Declaration" between the two countries to
reinforce the relationship. So far, the alliance has been
based on the two countries' military and security needs.
Through the "New Security Declaration," she hopes to
transform the alliance to "a relationship based on common
value, such as the democracy and market economy," Paik said
during a June 25 meeting with Poloffs. She would also
consider upgrading the ROK's participation in the missile
defense and Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Like
Lee, Park would seek renegotiation of the transition of
Wartime Operational Control (OPCON), however. In addition to
the U.S.-ROK alliance, Park also sees the ROK-Japan
relationship crucial to peace on the Korean peninsula and
hopes to enhance it, notes Park's advisor Paik.


9. (U) The liberal contenders are united in their advocacy of
the "Sunshine" policy of pro-North Korean engagement dating
back to the Kim Dae-jung administration. They also appear to
be more concerned with the historical "bad blood" between
South Korea and China and Japan. In the Munhwa Ilbo surveys
conducted in late June, former Gyeonggi Province governor
Sohn Hak-kyu enjoys the lead among the progressive candidates
at 24.1 percent, followed by former Prime Minister Lee
Hae-chan with 10.9 percent and former Unification Minister
Chung Dong-young at 8.2 percent. June 30 Joongang Ilbo polls
looking at all of the candidates put Sohn's popularity at
about 6.8 percent, Chung at 3.5 percent, and former Prime
Ministers Han Myeong-sook and Lee Hae-chan at 2.1 and 2
percent, respectively.


10. (SBU) An independent candidate, former Gyeonggi Province
Governor Sohn Hak-kyu is still struggling to shed the stigma
of being a "traitor" for leaving the GNP, the party that had

nurtured him for fifteen years. He is also trying to make a
smooth transition from being a conservative candidate to a
progressive one. He announced in late June his intention to
officially join hands with members of a "pan-progressive"
circle. While his popularity ratings are still only hovering
around six percent, he is seen as the frontrunner relative to
other candidates from the liberal/progressive side of the
South Korean politics, most of whom are from the ruling camp.

11. (SBU) Sohn has created what he calls the "Peace
Management" policy towards North Korea that is based on the
Sunshine policy and is founded on three principles: (1) the
"universal" values of democracy, freedom, and market economy;
(2) improving the quality of peace on the peninsula
substantively through achievable and sustained programs; and
(3) expanding institutional networks across the Northeast
Asia region. The ultimate goal of "Peace Management" is to
reach regional integration through the "peaceful evolution"
of domestic and foreign policies in the region. Sohn also
proposed the creation of an "Integrated Special Economic Zone
between South and North Korea" by extending the Kaesong
Industrial Complex to the southern side of the demilitarized
zone (DMZ). In a June 26 discussion with Poloffs, Sohn's
foreign policy advisors Dr. Min Byung-oh and Lee Yoon-saeng
noted that while Sohn's pro-engagement stance is firm, the
pace and methods involved in the "Peace Management" policy
are flexible, and can be adjusted according to circumstances;
he specifically pointed to a possible collapse of the regime
in the event of Kim Jong-Il's death as an event that the
foreign policy team was considering, and that would
significantly alter Sohn's "rules of engagement." Min also
tangentially noted that North Korea is aware that it has
"lost" to the South, and that its awareness of the gap that
exists between the two countries would prompt a desire for

12. (SBU) Like his former GNP compatriots, Sohn is seen as a
strong proponent of South Korea's alliance with the United
States. Sohn in his public speeches invites the United
States to play an even more active role as mediator in
dialogue among the regional players in East Asia
(specifically Korea, China, and Japan). Sohn is also a
strong advocate of an open market system, and has repeatedly
expressed his hope that a successful FTA with the U.S. would
serve as a catalyst in forming a multiple layer of FTAs in
the region. Since leaving the GNP, however, he has begun to
recommend that the U.S. take a closer look at the changing
dynamics in the region rather than rely on "conventional
understanding" of interrelations. By way of an example, Min
said that one could not treat a grown man the same way the
man was treated when he was a boy, hinting that the U.S. was
not recognizing South Korea's growing power in the region.

13. (SBU) Min also said that Sohn's camp is uncomfortable
with what they perceive to be an ever-deepening relationship
between the United States and Japan. Min said that in
comparison to Germany, Japan is unrepentant in making amends
for its historical wrongdoings, making it difficult for
regional countries to establish close relations with Japan
(he pointed specifically to China and North Korea, noting
that North Koreans "hate" Japan). Due to this difficulty in
forming partnerships and maintaining good relations with its
neighboring countries, Min purported that Japan's role in the
world would inevitably decrease. He emphasized that a rise
in anti-Japanese sentiment would be linked to
anti-Americanism if South Koreans began to view the
U.S.-Japanese alliance as being too close; therefore, he
advised that the US take a more careful approach in handling
relationships within the region. While Sohn's foreign policy
team did not expect ROK-Japan relations to change any time
soon due to Japan's refusal to change, they did point to the
growing popularity of Korean pop culture in Japan as a
positive indication of happy coexistence.


14. (SBU) Former Unification Minister Chung Dong-young
defected from the Uri party to distance himself from the
unpopular Roh administration. His recognition factor is
high, due to his former career as a news anchor and

Unification Minister, but his efforts to secure the
presidential vote have largely been in vain: his popularity
ratings still hover at only 3.5 percent. Chung's foreign
policy platform is in line with the general liberal line of
pro-North Korean engagement. In a June 22 meeting with
Poloffs, Chung's foreign policy advisor Kim Yeon-chul claimed
that Chung has the most expertise in handling foreign policy
matters -- particularly North Korea -- pointing to his
experience as Unification Minister, as well as his numerous
visits to the United States, Europe, and Japan. Kim also
alleged that while all of the other candidates' campaign
pledges were purely for political gain, Chung has established
feasible policy plans that can actually be implemented.

15. (SBU) Chung's main campaign focus is on North Korea.
Unlike all of the other candidates who emphasize a North
Korean engagement policy after or in conjunction with
denuclearization, Chung maintains an engagement-first policy,
asserting that North Korea cannot be moved to action without
appropriately engaging it from the beginning. Chung
maintains that President Roh is not handling North Korean
engagement appropriately, and is apparently stunned that Roh
does not appear interested in holding a summit with North
Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. In his discussion with Poloffs,
Kim tied every foreign policy issue back to North Korea, and
this was especially true in his discussion of Chung's
approach towards the U.S. Chung has been known to be
critical of the U.S. alliance in the past, and the only
mention of the alliance during the discussion was for its
role in North Korean denuclearization. Kim hinted that Chung
perceives the U.S. to be slighting South Korea's role in the
international community, going so far as to point to
historical examples of international meetings during which
South Korea did not do anything but "pay and watch."

16. (U) Chung's approach to China and Japan is two-fold: he
views both with distaste for being unapologetic about
historical wrongdoings against South Korea, but also
acknowledges the significance of their roles in Six-Party
Talks and North Korean denuclearization. Chung hopes to see
China take advantage of its relationship with North Korea to
aid progress in the Six-Party Talks, as well as to increase
its role in aiding South Korea in managing North Korean
refugees. As for Japan, Chung believes that Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe is ruining the already volatile nature of
the South Korea-Japan relationship, and that the Liancourt
Rocks (which Koreans call Dokdo) and Yasukuni issues need to
be dealt with very soon. Chung also assesses that Japan
needs to take a more proactive role in the Six-Party Talks,
rather than getting bogged down with the abductions issue.


17. (U) Two of the three GNP underdog candidates, Won
Hee-ryong and Go Jin-hwa, explicitly advocate engagement
policy. Won Hee-ryong stated during the GNP foreign policy
debate that, as President, he would "maintain and develop the
engagement policy toward the North." Won also has a
"Three-Stage Reunification Plan" like Park Geun-hye, but it
is different from Park's in that the first "stage" is
transforming the cease-fire agreement with the DPRK into a
peace accord. Go Jin-hwa also called for a peace accord
between two Koreas. Both Won and Go argue that two Koreas
should hold South-North summits or parliamentary meetings
regularly. While these two candidates do not discuss the
U.S.-ROK alliance in depth, Hong Joon-pyo's main foreign
policy agenda is "independent diplomacy toward the U.S."
During his opening statement, Hong said, "(t)o befit the
nation's status (as the world's 11th largest economy), Korea
should strengthen its independent policy line on the United
States." While Hong Joon-pyo's position on the OPCON issue
is not clear, Won and Go both welcome the transition of OPCON
and oppose renegotiation.

18. (U) Many in President Roh's circle have expressed
interest in running for President: former Prime Ministers Han
Myeong-sook and Lee Hae-chan, former governor of South
Gyeongsang Province and economic aide to Roh Kim Hyuk-kyu,
former Uri party chairman Shin Ki-nam, former Minister of
Health and Welfare Rhyu Si-min, and former Presidential Chief

of Staff Lee Byung-wan. These underdogs have yet to declare
their foreign policy plans, but we expect that they would run
parallel to that of the current Roh administration.


19. (SBU) Barring any significant breakthroughs or crises
with North Korea in the months before the election, the real
driving force behind this election will be each candidate's
domestic policies, especially due to the public perception
that the current administration has mismanaged the economy.
Foreign policy is therefore likely to be a secondary concern,
and North Korean engagement will be the only foreign policy
issue that really matters. Relations with the North on some
level are bound to continue regardless of the elected
candidate or party. The only substantive differences will
lie in the pace and methods of engagement.

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