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South Korea sends mixed message with war games, unification tax

South Korea President Lee on Sunday emphasized coexistence and proposed a unification tax to prepare for any future collapse of North Korea. Monday, he expressed strong support for this week's war games with the United States.

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The USS Blue Ridge rides at anchor in a naval port in Busan, South Korea, Aug. 16, waiting for Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States. Tens of thousands of South Korean and US troops launched a fresh round of military drills Monday despite North Korea's warning that it would retaliate with a "merciless counterblow" for the exercises Pyongyang considers a rehearsal for invasion.

AP Photo/Newsis

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South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak faces a storm of criticism if he tries to push through a hefty “unification tax” to help cover the immense costs of reunifying North and South Korea in the event of the collapse of North Korea.

 “It’s a crazy idea,” says Chang Sung-eun, who works as a personal trainer in central Seoul. “He is a very rich man. He doesn’t care. I don’t have money.”

Then again, Koreans wonder how serious Mr. Lee is about the plan, presented Sunday on the 65th anniversary of the end of Japanese colonial rule. Standing in front of the massive newly reconstructed gate of a one-time royal palace that was destroyed by the Japanese, Lee said that “inter-Korean relations demand a new paradigm,” in which “the two sides choose coexistence instead of confrontation; progress instead of stagnation.”

But less than 24 hours later, on Monday, he called for “training thoroughly” in joint exercises this week involving 55,000 South Korean and 30,000 American troops.

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