Even before she takes office Monday, Feb 25 as South Korea's first female president, Park Geun-hye's campaign vow to soften Seoul's current hard-line approach to rival North Korea is being tested by Pyongyang's recent underground nuclear detonation, The Associated Press reports.
Pyongyang, Washington, Beijing and Tokyo are all watching to see if Park, the daughter of a staunchly anti-communist dictator, pursues an ambitious engagement policy meant to ease five years of animosity on the divided peninsula or if she sticks with the tough stance of her fellow conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak.
Park's decision is important because it will likely set the tone of the larger diplomatic approach that Washington and others take in stalled efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
It will also be complicated by North Korea's warning of unspecified "second and third measures of greater intensity," a threat that comes as Washington and others push for tightened UN sanctions as punishment for the Feb. 12 atomic test, the North's third since 2006.
That test is seen as another step toward North Korea's goal of building a bomb small enough to be mounted on a missile that can hit the United States. The explosion, which Pyongyang called a response to U.S. hostility, triggered global outrage.
Park has said she won't yet change her policy, which was built with the high probability of provocations from Pyongyang in mind. But some aren't sure if engagement can work, given North Korea's choice of "bombs over electricity," as American scientist Siegfried Hecker puts it.