(ATTN: ADDS photo; UPDATES with more remarks in paras 14-17)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Oct. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday called on her government to build "sufficient" capabilities to accommodate North Korean defectors and go over a system to better support their resettlement here, saying they are a "test ground for reunification."
During a Cabinet meeting, Park also stressed the need to help North Koreans get a better grasp of the link between the "astronomical" costs of Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, and their poverty -- a move to further pressure the North into renouncing its nuclear ambitions.
Park has recently been sending to the North's ordinary citizens and rank-and-file troops a series of messages that highlights the reclusive regime's failure to take proper care of its people, while funneling its scarce resources into its costly and much-criticized military programs.
"While the defections by North Korean elites as well as regular citizens are on the rise, the motivations for their defections have become varied with some fleeing their country with a sense of despair about lack of their own prospects or for their children's future," she said.
"(The inflow of) defectors are like a unification that has come earlier, and handling them is like a trial run for eventual reunification," she added.
Through various recent speeches, the chief executive has underscored that the steady influx of North Korean defectors to South Korea or elsewhere is a telltale sign of "cracks" in the North's dictatorial governing system, which she said has raised the possibility of unrest in the reclusive state.
Park then called for close interagency consultations to discuss ways to "promptly" build the country's capacity to accept North Korean refugees yearning for "freedom and human rights."
Rejecting growing calls for talks with the recalcitrant regime, the president reiterated that sticking to dialogue would be tantamount to jeopardizing the safety of South Koreans and allowing Pyongyang to stall for time.
"Thus, we now have to focus on the across-the-board efforts to compel North Korea to change tack and give up its provocations through sanctions and pressure, and we also have to stand united and ensure a robust security posture," she said.
Such remarks came days after Rep. Moon Jae-in, a former leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and presidential aspirant, demanded the government resume diplomacy toward the unruly regime and temporarily suspend the ongoing efforts to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system to the peninsula.
"We don't have much time now," she said. "I call on political circles to put the foremost priority on the wellbeing of citizens and muster up our strength for (the betterment of) the Republic of Korea and its descendants."
Park also called for concerted efforts to promptly adopt a new U.N. Security Council resolution entailing "complete, effective" sanctions in response to the North's fifth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 9.
"(We have to make the North Korean regime) clearly recognize that if it does not halt its nuclear development, its efforts to keep (even) the basic diplomatic relations (with the outside world) will be difficult as the current contours of the 'international community versus North Korea' will be solidified, not to mention stronger sanctions," she said.
Touching on the anti-graft law that went into force late last month, Park directed related ministries to "do their best" to minimize any side effects.
"The law is the people's promise and code of conduct to end irregular practices that lead to corruption, and forge a transparent, clean society through fair competition," the president explained.
"We should not let the purpose of the law fade or only highlight its side effects by excessively responding to it."
The so-called Kim Young-ran Law, named after the former head of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, bans public servants, educators and journalists from receiving free meals valued over 30,000 won (US$27), gifts worth more than 50,000 won or congratulatory or condolence money of more than 100,000 won.
Critics have said it would dampen consumption and undermine a long-standing culture that features exchanges of gifts and meals as an expression of hospitality, gratitude or affection towards one another.
During the meeting, Park also upbraided unionized workers of big companies for going on a strike, saying that their demand for a wage hike is "selfish."
The president has repeatedly criticized a series of walkouts by trade unions of major companies, stressing that their actions would cause damage to subcontractors and hurt her drive to spur economic growth.
"Unionized workers of some major companies, whose pays are relatively high are carrying out strikes which can be viewed as a selfish act," she said.
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