By Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, March 18 (Xinhua) -- One of South Korea's prospective presidential contenders, who was the best hope for progressive voters four years earlier, championed a parallel approach of sanctions and dialogue to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear program.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People's Party said during a dinner meeting with foreign correspondents in Seoul Friday that dialogue will be able to run parallel with sanctions, referring to the long-stalled six-party talks China has offered to resume.
The aid-for-disarmament dialogue to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula has been suspended since late 2008. The six-way dialogue involves the two Koreas, China, the United States, Russia and Japan.
"No precedent is found (in history) that sanctions brought a regime collapse. Nobody has asked questions about what the purpose of sanctions is," said Ahn.
The former People's Party chief said the purpose was to arrange a dialogue table at the right time and under the right conditions, stressing the need to restart any dialogue as rapidly as possible that includes the four-way talks among the two Koreas, China and the U.S. as well as the six-party dialogue.
The four-way talks had been held from 1996 to 1999 to defuse tensions and build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, helping lead to the first inter-Korean summit talks in 2000.
Ahn said South Korea should have proactively used its diplomatic ability to influence the United States and China and encourage the two powers to get more actively involved in resolving the peninsula's nuclear issue.
The "strategic patience," Ahn said, effectively meant doing nothing for the peninsula's denuclearization, referring to the U.S. foreign policy in the past decade under which Washington had refrained from having talks with the DPRK before Pyongyang's sincere efforts to dismantle its nuclear program.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Seoul Friday that the strategic patience policy had ended, and that all options were on the table to resolve the DPRK's nuclear issue. Tillerson visited South Korea for his second stop of his first East Asian tour since taking office.
Ahn saw a "significantly low" possibility for military actions toward the DPRK to become a key policy of the Trump administration, saying the U.S. side would not want tensions escalated in the region. The so-called "surgical strike" against the DPRK's nuclear facilities can put the entire peninsula into an all-out war.
He placed an emphasis on cooperation with the international community, especially China and the United States, to denuclearize the peninsula, saying the inter-Korean dialogue could be relaunched after establishing positions on it through talks with the two powers.
Touching on the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, he said South Korea is required to talk with the governments of both China and the U.S. as the two countries think of it from a different perspective.
Seoul and Washington have recently launched the process of the THAAD installation in southeast South Korea as part of the missile defense battery, including two mobile launchers, were delivered to an unknown base of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).
One THAAD battery, valued at about 1.3 billion U.S. dollars, is composed of six mobile launchers, 48 interceptors, an X-band radar and the fire and control unit.
China and Russia have strongly opposed the THAAD battery in South Korea as it breaks regional strategic balance and damages security interests of the two countries. THAAD will boost arms race in the region as powerful missile shields bring more nuclear missiles that can break through the missile defense systems.
"(South) Korea and China had enjoyed the best relationship in history since the two set up diplomatic ties in 1992. Both countries had wanted to become a real friend," said Ahn who stressed the need for dialogue between Seoul and Beijing to broaden their understanding of each other.
PROSPECTIVE PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER
Ahn has predicted a close race between him and Moon Jae-in, former head of the main opposition Minjoo Party, in the upcoming presidential election scheduled for May 9.
As the constitutional court upheld the motion to impeach former President Park Geun-hye last week, the election is to be held about 50 days later.
Recent surveys showed Ahn at a much disadvantage to Moon, but the two-term lawmaker of the People's Party is expected to emerge as a dark horse following the end of the primary in the Minjoo Party.
Three major Minjoo Party presidential hopefuls, including frontrunner Moon, have held three of the top four ranks in recent opinion polls as popularity for conservative politicians fell with the downfall of Park.
Two of the three Minjoo Party contenders will bow out of the race after the primary ends, and the party will field a sole presidential candidate.
Then, public support for Ahn may go up sharply as he can absorb much, or part, of the support given to the two Minjoo Party contenders. "In the end, the presidential election will become an Ahn-Moon race," said Ahn.
Ahn, the software tycoon-turned-politician, gained a sensational popularity in the 2012 presidential election when Park was elected as the 18th leader, but he dropped his bid to throw his support behind Moon.
At the time, there was a belief that if both Ahn and Moon ran for president together, liberal votes would be split. Though Ahn stepped aside, Moon lost to Park in 2012.
Ahn was a medical doctor by training and the country's first developer of the anti-virus software, called V3, which was distributed to the general public free of charge.
Before entering the political arena, Ahn was highly respected for his contribution to the South Korean society, and was considered an icon among the younger generation due partly to a so-called "Talk Concert," through which he toured the entire country and talked with youths about their agonies.
"Forcing people to have an identical thought does not mean a national unity. The unity means finding wisdom on how to enable people having many different thoughts to live together," said Ahn.