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 GNP rivals divided over N.K., U.S. in debate

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PostSubject: GNP rivals divided over N.K., U.S. in debate   Tue 19 Jun - 10:48

Five presidential candidates of the conservative Grand National Party yesterday in a primary debate offered divided views on Seoul's engagement policy towards the North and the alliance with the United States.

The contenders, jockeying for position during the run-up to the August 19 primary race, also touted their experiences and policies on defense, unification and diplomacy in the event.

Two leading aspirants -- former Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak and former GNP leader Park Geun-hye -- called for the adjustment of South Korea's lenient stance towards its neighbor, chiding the Roh Moo-hyun administration for its policy of providing economic and humanitarian aid to the nuclear-armed North.

"We had exerted our utmost effort, but (the North) returned with (the test of) atomic weapons. Now the nation should shift to a principled engagement policy so as to induce the North to reform and open up," he said at the discussion held in Daejeon.


Park also said that the North needs to change itself through better policy. "North Korean policy with principles can lead to the North's genuine change," she said."

She displayed more conservative color than Lee, calling for a "reciprocal approach based on principles."

Underdog presidential hopeful Hong Joon-pyo was also critical of the so-called Sunshine Policy. "Shoveling unconditional aid to the North only resulted in (the explosion of) the atomic bomb," the outspoken politician said.

Two other minor runners -- Won Hee-ryong and Go Jin-hwa -- advocated the engagement policy.

"I will pursue peaceful co-existence and inter-Korean exchange and cooperation by consistently maintaining and developing the engagement policy towards the North," he said.

All candidates except for Hong called for amicable relations with the United States. "South Korea is the world's 11th largest economy in terms of gross domestic product. To befit the nation's status, Korea should strengthen its independent policy line on the United States," Hong said.

Park underscored the importance of strong ties with the United States. She called for "new security declaration" between Seoul and Washington in an effort to restore relations with the United States, which critics say have soured under the Roh administration.

The event was the third of the four GNP primary debates. The two previous discussions centered on economic policies and social policies, such as education and welfare. The final debate in Seoul will cover a variety of topics.

The five contenders, competing to win the GNP's nomination, will face off in the August 19 primary race. Lee leads the race with about 40 percent of public support in various polls. Park gets about 20 percent. Won, Hong and Go score low ratings.

Member and nonmember ballots each account for about half of the in-house vote. Lee and Park are in a dead heat in surveys of party members.

Park touted her diplomatic experience as the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee and then the leader of the GNP.

"I began diplomatic activities when young to help my father. As the chairman of the GNP, I met many world leaders. I also had a one-on-one talk with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during my visit to the North," she said.

In an apparent shot at Lee, who is known for his economic prowess, Park said, "The nation alone cannot revive its economy. A diplomatic president who is able to compete and cooperate with the world can revitalize the economy."

She also explained her three-phase unification blueprint, which covers establishment of peace, economic unification and political unification.

"The first step is to settle peace on the Korean peninsula by completely dismantling the North's nuclear weapons and resolving military confrontation. The second is to achieve economic unification by building a joint economic community on the Korean peninsula. And the final stage is to achieve political unification that realizes universal human values -- freedom, human rights and welfare," she said.

Frontrunner Lee promoted the economic development of North Korea.

He said if the North were to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and open its door, South Korea he would help the neighbor achieve a national per capita income of $3,000 within 10 years through aggressive aid in cooperation with the international community. His plan is dubbed MB doctrine, with MB standing for his initials.

"I will play a leading role in drawing cooperation from the international community to revive the North Korean economy," he said.

He also promoted another pillar of his North Korean policy -- to build another inter-Korean industrial complex, dubbed Nadeul Island, just south of the inter-Korean border. The park, which will be about 9 million pyeong, or 29.7 square meters, will be located in Nadeul Island, a manmade island sometimes called Manhattan in Korea, in the Han River.

There is now one joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Gaesong. The complex 1 million pyeong, or 3.3 million won square meters.

By Jin Hyun-joo

(hjjin@heraldm.com)

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