ANALYSIS-North Korea a looming problem for whoever wins South vote

Jack Kim
Reuters Middle East

* South Korea votes for new president on Dec. 19

* North Korean rocket launch scheduled for December

* Main candidates in South Korea have promised to engage the


* North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sticking to father's

pro-military policy

SEOUL, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Whoever wins South Korea's Dec. 19

presidential election will likely find that spiky and

unpredictable North Korea is as ready to strike as it is to


The main contenders in the South's election have said they

would hold talks with Kim Jong-un, the youthful ruler of one of

the world's most heavily armed states, in a bid to end the chill

that has descended on relations under South Korea's President

Lee Myung-bak, whose mandatory single term ends in February.

But the "military first" policy of late North Korean leader

Kim Jong-il has outlived him and analysts say the South's next

president could find his son, the third member of his family to

rule, just as wily and hard to deal with.

Conservative candidate Park Geun-hye, the daughter of former

dictator Park Chung-hee, says she wants to build a new

"trustpolitik" between the two Koreas, which remain technically

at war after an armistice ended their 1950-53 conflict.

Her main challenger, left winger Moon Jae-in, has pledged

unconditional talks with the North and aid.

During his 17-year rule, Kim Jong-il took $450 million worth

of government and private-sector aid from South Korea under the

South's Sunshine Policy, aimed at buying peace on the peninsula.

But while taking the aid, the North pushed ahead with

developing nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

"However things work out, it tends to be the North that sets

the agenda," said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean

Studies in the South Korean capital, 30 km (20 miles) from the

frontier separating the prosperous South from the North, whose

economy is just a fortieth the size of the South's.

Even so, thanks to Kim's "military first" policies aimed at

building a strong state that the United States would have to

reckon with, its armed forces are more than a million strong and

could soon be brandishing deployable nuclear weapons.

The North's armed forces shelled a South Korean island in

2010 after Lee, a conservative, cut off aid, and they were also

blamed for sinking a South Korean warship in the same year with

the loss of 46 lives, something the North denied.

"The Sunshine Policy was supposed to allow us to take charge

of the Korean peninsula's future when the Cold War ended," said

Paik Hak-soon of the Sejong Institute, a Seoul-based think-tank.

"Then Lee came in and the threat of war became very real."


Kim Jong-un initially appeared to be a very different

proposition from his austere father. He speaks in public,

something Kim Jong-il rarely if ever did, he is often pictured

smiling, joking and accompanied by his young wife.

His policies, however, mirror his father's. The official

ideology of economic, military and political self-reliance

remains in place, backed up by the armed forces and what Kim

Jong-il termed the "philosophy of the barrel of a gun".

In April, North Korea tore up a food-aid deal with the

United States when it launched a long-range rocket which critics

say is designed to test technology that could be used to design

a missile to carry a nuclear warhead.

Already heavily sanctioned as a result of 2006 and 2009

nuclear weapons tests, the North is barred from developing

missile and nuclear technology by U.N. resolutions.

This month, it said it would launch another rocket some time

in December carrying a weather satellite, which is timed for the

anniversary of Kim Jong-il's death, and coincides with elections

in South Korea and Japan.

The North said on Saturday the launch could be postponed,

but gave no new timeframe or reason for the delay.

The planned launch has drawn condemnation from the United

States, South Korea and Japan and "deep concern" from China, the

North's one major backer.

At the same time, satellite images appear to show the North

is building a light water reactor and working on uranium

enrichment, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency,

which could allow it to expand its nuclear arsenal.

Such actions will test South Korea's next president and the

North will look to exploit inconsistencies in policy.

Lee threatened strikes commensurate with "provocations"

after the island shelling, which is believed to have discouraged

further attacks. Park has not stated what the response would be

in the event of hostile policies and weapons development.

"There need to be measures to spell out consequences ... but

I don't see them," Yang said of Park's policies.

If Park does come to power, she will have to negotiate with

the grandson of Kim Il Sung, the first ruler of North Korea who

ordered several assassination attempts on her father, one of

which resulted in her mother's death.

Moon was a top aide to former President Roh Moo-hyun who

believed in engagement with the North. The prospect of

unconditional aid under Moon means he is likely to appeal to the

North more than Park.

She has angered the North with demands that it drop its

nuclear programme and missile tests and the North's media has

labelled her a "fascist".

Unlike previous presidential campaigns, North Korea has not

featured as a big issue, with Park and Moon focusing their

attention on the economy.

(Editing by David Chance and Robert Birsel)

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes