The Three Faces of Park’s “Trustpolitik”

Recent Features


The Three Faces of Park’s “Trustpolitik”

South Korea’s new president Park Geun-hye has declared a bold agenda. Can she deliver?

Like Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream, Park Geun-hye’s "trustpolitik" is intended for multiple audiences. Specifically, Park has put forward Korean, regional, and global visions of trustpolitik, with their common thread being a greater focus on ordinary people and civil society.

Already, the Park administration is rolling out efforts at all three levels.

In addressing North Korea, she has said she will remain resolute in the face of the regime’s threats and provocations, even as she continues to seek to establish a renewed dialogue with the Kim regime, and even offered to include Pyongyang in her regional level initiative.

Moreover, she has pledged that South Korea will not let the actions of North Korea’s leaders impact Seoul’s humanitarian policies towards ordinary citizens. Alongside this effort, she has pledged to continue pressing for greater people-to-people ties between Koreans on both sides of the DMZ. Most notably, Park has announced her intention to create an international park in the DMZ where Koreans from both countries could interact. As she explained the purpose of the international park to the U.S. Congress:

“It will be a park that sends a message of peace to all of humanity… There, I believe we can start to grow peace—to grow trust. It would be a zone of peace bringing together not just Koreans separated by a military line, but also the citizens of the world.”

Additionally, the Ministry of Unification just announced it has approved plans by 14 South Korean companies to invest in the Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea, which was shuttered after a South Korean tourist was shot by a North Korean guard in 2008. Although the approval is dated February 15, right before Park’s inauguration, her administration is likely to have had a hand in this.

In tangent with this policy towards Pyongyang, the Park administration has announced it is launching a Northeast Asian Peace and Cooperation Initiative. Besides increasing institutionalism among Korea, Japan, and China, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has said the initiative will “aim to turn mistrust and confrontation in Northeast Asia into trust and cooperation.”

In the beginning, Park noted in her address to Congress yesterday, this might require the parties focus on “softer” issues like the environment, disaster assistance, terrorism, and nuclear safety. By starting with these issues, however, “Trust will be built through this process. And that trust will propel us to expand the horizons of our cooperation.”

Like her North Korea policy, this effort has thus far been inhibited by the actions of other powers—in this case, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s historical revisionism. Whereas Park’s administration intended to send its foreign minister to Tokyo and had worked tirelessly to hold the annual trilateral finance meeting between Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul on the sidelines of an ASEAN+3 meeting, the Park administration cancelled both of these in the wake of Abe’s offense rhetoric and his advisers’decisions to visit theYasukuni war shrine.

With the three nations unwilling to boost cooperation on political and financial matters, they nonetheless still held a Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting in Japan on Sunday and Monday this week. Out of this meeting came a joint communiqué pledging more cooperation in addressing air pollution throughout Asia, and working together to"enhance the full effective and sustained implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change." Park will no doubt seek to leverage this small agreement to achieve breakthroughs in other areas.

The least noted aspect of Park’s Trustpolitik policy has been its international component. This is essentially a continuation of her predecessors, Lee Myung-bak’s, “Global Korea” policy, except Park will consider Northeast Asia separately from the rest of the globe. Thus, Park is likely to continue her predecessors’ effort to gain a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and to focus on South Korea’s development cooperation with developing nations instead of pure aid.

Thus far Africa has surprisingly been the focus of the Park administration’s efforts. As Park was en route to the U.S. over the weekend, Yonhap News Agency reported that Blue House was in talks with Parliament over the possibility of creating a Korea-Africa Center to coordinate South Korea’s policy towards the African continent. The proposed center would be modeled off the ASEAN-Korea center, with its central headquarters located in Seoul and up to four African based branches in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt.

But Park is not waiting for parliament’s approval to begin engaging the continent. On Monday Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun will travel to New York to participate in a high-level UN Security Council debateon security and terrorism issues in Africa; particularly the Sahel. Following that meeting, Kim will be in Brussels for a donor conference for Mali. The Foreign Ministry has already said Kim will arrive in Brussels with “detailed plans for development cooperation” in Mali, and a pledge of US$1 million of aid for the war torn country.