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S. Korea president-elect says security priority with North

20 december 2012, 16:48
0
South Korean president-elect Park Geun-Hye vowed Thursday to put national security first while pursuing greater engagement with a belligerent North Korea, AFP reports.

In her first policy address since her historic election Wednesday as the country's first woman president, Park stressed the security threat posed by the North that had been underscored by its recent rocket launch.

She also promised to work for regional stability in Northeast Asia where South Korea, China and Japan are engaged in a series of bitter territorial disputes.

"The launch of North Korea's long-range missile symbolically showed how grave the security situation facing us is," Park said.

"I will keep the promise I made to you to open a new era on the Korean peninsula, based on strong security and trust-based diplomacy," she added.

During her campaign, Park had distanced herself from the hardline policy of outgoing President Lee Myung-Bak who suspended humanitarian aid to the North.

Park had promised a dual policy of greater engagement and "robust deterrence", and had even held out the prospect of a summit with the North's young leader Kim Jong-Un, who came to power a year ago.

Analysts say she will be restricted by hawks in her ruling conservative New Frontier Party, as well as an international community intent on punishing the North for what it saw as a disguised ballistic missile test.

"I will also work for greater reconciliation, cooperation and peace in Northeast Asia," Park said, while adding that regional trust and stability had to be based on "a correct historical perception".

Seoul and Tokyo are embroiled in a sovereignty row over a tiny group of South Korea-controlled islands in the Sea of Japan. Japan is mired in a separate but similar dispute with China.

There are concerns in South Korea, where bitter memories linger of Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, about rising nationalism in Japan under incoming prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Seoul reacted angrily in October when Abe visited a Tokyo shrine that honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leading war criminals from World War II.

As prime minister in 2007, he angered South Koreans by denying the Japanese military's direct involvement in forcing women, many from the Korean peninsula, into sexual slavery during the war.

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