President Park Geun-hye named a former five-term lawmaker to head a state advisory council on national unification, her office announced Thursday.
Hyun Kyung-dae, 74, now chief of a law firm, was designated to lead the National Unification Advisory Council as its senior vice chairman. The president is the ex-officio chairman of the council.
Hyun, considered one of seven elder political mentors believed to be offering advice to Park, served as a lawmaker from 1981 to 2004. He also worked for the unification advisory council as its secretary general in 1990.
After being named to the council, Hyun told Yonhap News Agency that he believes South Korea should deal with the North at its own pace and in line with its own principles without being swayed by the communist nation.
"Rather than using hard-line policies, we need to deal with (North Korea) based on principles while appropriately proposing dialogue when necessary," he said. Hyun added, however, that the South needs to be tough right now because Pyongyang "broke trust first."
He was apparently referring to North Korea's suspension of a jointly run industrial complex in its border city of Kaesong, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation that faces permanent closure.
Early this month, Pyongyang withdrew all of its 53,000 workers from the zone where 123 South Korean companies run factories with North Korean labor, while barring South Korean managers and supplies from entering the complex.
Last week, South Korea pulled its workers from the complex and all but seven officials have since left the zone. The seven remaining officials have been in negotiations over pay and other working-level issues and will return home once those issues have been resolved.
Hyun said he expects it will take some time to resolve the Kaesong dispute. He also said he believes the complex will not be shut down permanently because the project is a key source of foreign currency for Pyongyang and the North cannot operate the complex on its own.
The South pays Pyongyang about US$90 million in worker wages annually. (Yonhap News)