South Korean presidential candidate plays down reunification with North

South Korea’s ruling party candidate for president has played down the prospect of future reunification of the Korean peninsula, as the country’s voters tire of decades of fruitless diplomacy with North Korea.

Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Progressive Party, whose official statement includes a commitment to “seeking unification through peaceful measures,” told reporters Thursday that the inter-Korean competition in terms of ideology and efforts to demonstrate the superiority of each regime “makes no sense” and has not offered the prospect of “gains.” real anymore.”

Lee, the governor of South Korea’s most populous province, has questioned the effectiveness of US-led sanctions on North Korea. He praised former US President Donald Trump’s efforts to deal directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “very helpful and desirable” but said, “[Trump’s] The approach was very rosy, trying to make a “big deal” to solve all the issues at once.

Instead, Lee said he will continue “a pragmatic relationship that helps in economic development and supports the livelihoods of the people of the two Koreas.”

Lee’s comments have frustrated those who hope South Korea will continue to pursue reconciliation with North Korea with the ultimate goal of securing the peninsula’s reunification after more than 70 years of division.

South Korea’s constitution pledges that the country will seek “unification and formulate and implement a policy of peaceful reunification on the basis of a free and democratic basic system.”

The Korean Peninsula, officially still at war, remains one of the world’s largest potential geopolitical flashpoints.

Having pursued a nuclear weapons campaign for decades, North Korea in 2017 tested an ICBM capable of hitting the US mainland. And the development of its missile and nuclear programs continues apace.

This month, Lee told a group of university students that “it’s too late to pursue unification” of the two Koreas, adding that “there is no need to raise the level of hostility by denying each other’s system and arguing about which one can be absorbed,” and that he favored “a state of actual unification.” .

Jeongmin Kim, an analyst with Seoul-based NK Pro Information Service, said Lee was “drawing a line” between himself and incumbent Democratic Party Chairman Moon Jae-in, who has staked his political legacy on changing inter-Korean relations.

“The progressive line remains the same – that South Korea is no longer engaged in an ideological struggle with North Korea, and the North is no longer seen as an enemy,” Kim said.

But Lee points to a shift in priorities: from reconciliation to ‘pragmatic’ economic cooperation, and from reunification to coexistence.

Lee, who has likened himself to leftist Senator Bernie Sanders, has emphasized his domestic economic agenda based on strong welfare spending, low-priced public housing and cheap loans to the poor that include a pledge to provide a universal basic income of more than $400. Month.

Another leading candidate in the March presidential election, conservative candidate Yoon Seok Yeol, also tried to woo younger voters worried about inequality and the cost of living with a pledge to provide 500,000 housing units at half price.

Analysts said that while the two candidates promised to pursue diplomacy with the North Korean regime, their focus on domestic economic concerns reflects the priorities of young swing voters whose issue of relations with Pyongyang has not resonated.

“A lot of South Koreans, especially young people, are highly depoliticized – they have to find a way to survive in a society where competition is very fierce, with low job security and high real estate prices,” said NK Pro’s Kim. , adding that disappointment was exacerbated by the collapse of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in 2018.

“Hanoi has left South Koreans very disappointed – many have lost hope that widespread discussion of unification will ever occur, and I think many politicians are considering that as well.”

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