Park aims to widen Korean economic ties

Nov. 6, 2012 at 12:11 AM
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SEOUL, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- South Korean presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye said she will reach out to North Korea through a summit and the creation of exchange and cooperation centers in Seoul and Pyongyang.

"I am open to meeting North Korea's leader if it helps South-North relations," Park said during a news conference at the ruling Saenuri Party headquarters.

Park, 60, said she wants to start the unification process through a small-scale merger with the North in the economic field, a report by South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The centers could become official representative offices for each side, she said.

Park said she would use improved economic ties as the basis for broader political talks and eventual unity of the two Koreas, which have been at war technically since the end of a brutal three-year civil war in 1953.

A cease-fire created the two Koreas, which have never signed a peace treaty.

"The goal is to reach a balance between hard-line and overly dovish stances in setting Seoul's North Korea policy," said Park.

South Korea goes to the polls Dec. 19 in a first-past-the-post race -- a single round of voting and the candidate receiving the highest number of votes is elected. A president also can serve only for one five-year term.

Park's presentation hinted at a more conciliatory stance compared to incumbent President Lee Myung-bak and his administration, Yonhap reported.

Park, who is making her bid to become South Korea's first woman president, was chosen by the conservative Saenuri Party -- called the Grand National Party until February -- as their candidate in August.

Park, also the first woman to lead a main South Korean political party into a presidential race, is the daughter of a former dictator. Her father was former junta general Park Chung-hee, who seized power in a military coup in 1961. He was elected president in 1963, a post he held until he was killed in October 1979.

Park's presidential campaign has been notable for its conciliatory approach to the North and also for distancing itself from Lee, who was elected in late 2007, and his administration that has been wracked by bribery allegations.

In July Lee went on national television to apologize for the bribery scandals involving former aides.

The money-for-influence scandals have spread to include his elder brother Lee Sang-deuk, who is also a political mentor and who was arrested in July, Yonhap reported.

Lee Sang-deuk was arrested on suspicion of receiving more than $500,000 from two troubled savings banks.

The apology, which included a deep bow behind the podium, was the sixth public apology during Lee Myung-bak's single five-year term, Yonhap said.

Park said she wants a more "balanced" relationship with North Korea but also is determined to "neutralize North Korea's nuclear and missile threats."

"We should forgo an era of division and confrontation to open a new era of peace and harmony," she said.

But there can be no compromise on national security issues, making clear Seoul won't tolerate aggression along the Northern Limit Line, the disputed maritime boundary.

The NLL was drawn mid-channel among islands in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.

"There can be no surrender of the NLL that has been defended with South Korean blood," she said.

In September the main opposition Democratic Opposition Party named Moon Jae-in as their presidential candidate.

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