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Re-election of Obama, Xi Jinping's rise to usher in favorable changes in N. Korea

All Headlines 17:05 November 08, 2012

SEOUL, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) -- The re-election of liberal-minded U.S. President Barack Obama and the rise of a new leadership in China, led by soon-to-be-president Xi Jinping, are expected to help induce North Korea to ease confrontational policies and possibly adopt an engagement stance, experts here said Thursday.

Obama's victory gave breathing room to North Korea, whose policy options would have been far more limited if Republican rival Mitt Romney, a hard-liner, had been elected, observers said.

The North may temporarily decide not to take provocative measures, like conducting another nuclear test, and take time out to explore possible policy options acceptable to the second term Obama administration, which may opt for an engagement stance that can lead to tangible achievements in Washington's North Korean policies, experts well versed on the communist country said.

"(The North) could possibly take preemptive steps to improve relations with the U.S. by deciding to restore the Feb. 29 agreement, rather than (engaging in) provocations," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korean studies professor at Korea University. The 2012 agreement calls on Pyongyang to stop nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and a long-range missile launch. The North conducted a missile test in April in a breach of the pact.

South Korea's new president, to be elected in December, is also likely to reverse the current Lee Myung-bak administration's hard-line policy, and shift toward engagement policies with the communist country, contributing to relation-mending efforts by the North, now struggling to solidify the power of the newly-established regime under Kim Jong-un.

"Why Obama's North Korean policies did not work out is linked to the South Korean government's (hard-line) stance. Since the U.S. and South Korea should have governments that stress dialogue with the North (rather than pressure), things may be different from the past," said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at Sejong Institute.

South Korea's three main presidential candidates -- Park Geun-hye, Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo -- have expressed willingness to open talks with the North as part of their election pledges.

But the North will still maintain the option of a provocation in case the new governments in the U.S. and the South do not take visible steps to engage with the reclusive country, experts warned.

Regarding the North's relations with China, the inauguration of a Xi Jinping administration in the ally country is forecast to give a powerful boost to economic cooperation between the two partners, international affairs analysts claimed.

On Thursday, China opened a week-long congress in which President Hu Jintao is to relinquish his power to his appointed heir Xi, currently the vice president of the country.

As China prefers the stable maintenance of the status quo on the Korean Peninsula, the country may put its focus on increasing economic ties mainly by developing special economic zones in border areas in the North.

China and North have recently struck major economic deals such as projects to develop North Korean ports, mineral mines as well as joint economic zones.

"Xi Jinping tends to be outspoken. He has the possibility of openly expressing his willingness to support and assist the Kim Jong-un regime," Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, predicting sharply enhanced North-China relations under the new regime in China.


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