중앙데일리

South, North Korea tie ARF in a diplomatic knot

July 26,2008
A bizarre diplomatic twist took place yesterday that mirrors the turbulent nature of inter-Korean relations.

It began Thursday when Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo, who is also chairman of the Asean Regional Forum, released a statement in Singapore.

In a diplomatic blow to South Korea, Yeo said the South’s recent dealings with the North leave room for improvement.

ARF members “expressed strong support for continued development of inter-Korean dialogue based on the [Oct. 4] declaration,” Yeo said in a statement.

The North has long argued that the Lee Myung-bak administration has ignored the declaration, which was reached by President Roh Moo-hyun, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last year.

South Korea, meanwhile, tried to convince the nations represented at ARF to press Pyongyang to answer questions surrounding the recent killing of a South Korean tourist in the North.

During the annual forum, foreign ministers from 10 Asean member nations and 17 other countries expressed concern over the recent shooting, saying they hope “the incident would be resolved expeditiously.”

And then came the twist.

Unhappy Seoul officials yesterday asked Singapore to delete the part of the statement that called on the South to honor the Oct. 4 declaration.

Seoul agreed, in turn, that the sentence that mentions the shooting at Mount Kumgang should also be deleted.

The ARF host country has the right to revise the chairman’s statement.

The two disputed parts were deleted in a version of the statement that was updated last night. It is not known whether Pyongyang is aware of the latest change.

“We have already achieved our goal of earning support from several countries over the Mount Kumgang issue during the ARF meeting, so taking that part out of the statement will not hurt,” said the official, who declined to be named.

Inter-Korean ties have deteriorated since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office, and hostile rhetoric between the two sides has increased.

Tension culminated earlier this

month when Park Wang-ja, a 53-year-old housewife in Seoul, was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier after straying into a military zone on a trip to Mount Kumgang two weeks ago.

Since then, Seoul has repeatedly asked Pyongyang to allow a joint investigation, but the North has flatly refused.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan took the case to the ARF in a main discussion session that included his North Korean counterpart, Park Eui-choon.

Park, stressing the matter is strictly a bilateral issue, refused to comment, and instead denounced Seoul for denying the spirit of joint declarations made at the two previous inter-Korean summits, according to a senior South Korean official who was at the session.

“We tried to put words about resumption of inter-Korean talks and the Mount Kumgang issue into the chairman’s statement, while the North pushed for the inclusion of the Oct. 4 declaration,” said the senior official who declined to be named.

Thursday’s statement from Yeo indicated Seoul’s efforts did not go quite the way it hoped, as the group of foreign ministers gave both Koreas what they wanted.

The Oct. 4 declaration calls for mutual respect and trust, easing military tension in the Korean Peninsula, peace-building and more economic exchange and cooperation projects.

In an indication of shock and desperation, Yu, after the statement was released, reportedly summoned all senior officials who accompanied him to Singapore during dinner to prepare for an emergency briefing with the press after midnight to explain the statement.


By Ye Young-joon JoongAng Ilbo
/ Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter[hawon@joongang.co.kr]




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