Amidst increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula following a series of North Korean military provocations and a third nuclear test, the Park Geun-hye administration entered office in 2013 on a political platform aimed at building trust with the South Korean public, between the two Koreas, and among regional neighbors. The Park administration‟s policy toward North Korea, known as trustpolitik, calls for inter-Korean trust-building for future Korean unification based on verifiable compliance with existing agreements, a strong foundation of security, and efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Despite describing South Korean policy toward North Korea as a “trust-building process”, a closer examination of trustpolitik reveals an approach less reliant on actual trust and largely dependent on reciprocity and quid pro quo. The biggest challenge for Seoul will be to define trust in the inter-Korean context and how trust can be operational in pragmatic policy. President Park has yet to conceptualize her trust-building process in practice and has not shown how trust can be used to reduce North Korean military provocations and implement a balanced approach of both pressure and engagement. In the absence of a clear conception of trust, trustpolitik fails to establish standards to measure success in building inter-Korean trust and provide pragmatic policies that increase cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang.
The following paper provides several policy recommendations that the Park Geun-hye administration should adopt to better implement trustpolitik for building inter-Korean trust and cooperation. First, Seoul should seek to increase inter-Korean cooperation in numerous areas, such as economic and cultural cooperation, that are not solely conditional upon North Korean denuclearization. Second, Seoul should refrain from rhetorically retaliating against North Korean provocations and belligerence to ensure its intentions to cooperate are transparent. Third, the Park government should not place ultimatums on multilateral or bilateral negotiations with North Korea, such as the threat to completely dissolve the Six Party Talks in response to a fourth North Korean nuclear test. Most importantly, the Park administration needs to clearly define trust in the inter-Korean context by explaining how inter-Korean trust can be measured, how trust is factored into the implementation of trustpolitik, and how trust between Seoul and Pyongyang can be established despite security tensions.
Ms. Stephanie KANG (USA) was a program associate for a non-profit organization that promoted humanitarian aid and science diplomacy with North Korea. She received her MA in international studies from the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University, and her BA with honors in political science from the University of California, Irvine. Stephanie‟s research interests are in US-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation for North Korean issues, Northeast Asian regionalization, and Northeast Asian regional security cooperation.