SEOUL — South Korea’s new president on Monday denounced North Korea’s latest nuclear test and urged the country to abandon its nuclear program.
In her inaugural address before the National Assembly in Seoul, Park Geun-Hye offered her prescription for dealing with an ever-unpredictable Kim Jong Un — zero tolerance for future provocations while still working on measures to build trust with Pyongyang.
“Happiness can only flourish when people feel comfortable and secure,” said Park, South Korea’s first female president. “I pledge to you today that I will not tolerate any action that threatens the lives of our people and the security of our nation.
“North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people, and there should be no mistake that the biggest victim will be none other than North Korea itself.”
Park offered no specific plan for responding to the Feb. 12 nuclear test, which was the third Pyongyang has completed in recent years and also its largest. Few details are known about the test, but analysts said it could indicate advancements in the North’s nuclear program, potentially moving the country closer to the ability to launch a long-range, nuclear-armed missile.
Despite the nuclear test, and a December rocket launch conducted despite warnings of further sanctions from the international community, Park offered an olive branch to her northern neighbor.
She pledged to initiate a “trust-building” process on the peninsula to lay the groundwork for eventual unification of the two Koreas.
“I will move forward step-bystep on the basis of credible deterrence to build trust between the South and the North,” she said. “Trust can be built through dialogue and by honoring promises that have already been made. It is my hope that North Korea will abide by international norms and make the right choice so that the trust-building process on the Korean peninsula can move forward.”
For its part, North Korea doesn’t appear inclined to stop its acts of provocation. Over the weekend, North Korea sent a rare direct message to U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James Thurman threatening “miserable destruction” if the U.S. and South Korea conduct the joint Foal Eagle and Key Resolve drills next month as planned.
Most of Park’s speech on Monday dealt with domestic issues that received far more attention during the presidential campaign than North Korea. She promised to strengthen small and mid-sized businesses and prioritize the expansion of the science, technology and IT industries. She also pledged to promote a more democratic economy.
“A genuine era of happiness is only possible when we aren’t clouded by the uncertainties of aging and when bearing and raising children is truly considered a blessing,” she said, refering to concerns about the costs of raising a family and about the welfare of the elderly.
She also pledged to improve South Korea’s notoriously grueling education system, and lessen the country’s focus on academic credentials over merit and talent.
A U.S. delegation led by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon attended the inauguration. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim and Thurman also attended the ceremony, which was preceded by performances by South Korean singers including “Gangnam Style” rapper Psy, whose international success has become a source of pride in the country.
Psy gained further notoriety after reports surfaced that he sang in 2004 about killing U.S. troops, though he issued an apology late last year for doing so.