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Building Trust on the Korean Peninsula: An Assessment of ‘Trustpolitik’ for Inter-Korean Relations and Northeast Asia

Stephanie Nayoung Kang, Pacific Forum CSIS

The concept of trust in international relations is often overshadowed by notions of material power and overarching systemic constraints on state behavior. Yet cooperation among states is essentially based on a foundation of trust, a belief in reciprocity and compliance to a general pattern of expected behavior. In 2011, President Park Geunhye introduced trustpolitik, a policy aimed at “establishing mutually binding expectations based on global norms” and re-establishing relations between Seoul and Pyongyang based on fundamental trust.

This paper seeks to assess the viability and effectiveness of the pragmatic policy options outlined in Park’s conception of trust-building on the Korean Peninsula and whether trustpolitik can be applied to relations beyond the inter-Korean relationship. Several significant questions arise when evaluating President Park’s ‘new’ initiative toward North Korea and the region: Does the Park government’s policy of trustpolitik signify a departure from previous South Korean administrations or is it prone to the limitations of past initiatives toward North Korea? How effective is a framework of trust for reducing North Korean military provocations and making substantial steps toward denuclearization? Can President Park Geunhye’s notion of trust-building on the Korean Peninsula be extended to establish a ‘Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative’?