Inter-Korean Negotiations Call for Different Government Attitude

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Inter-Korean Negotiations Call for Different Government Attitude

Lately some inter-Korean projects and talks are not proceeding as expected, or the two sides are showing considerable differences of opinion. Examples abound. For the linking of the Seoul-Sinuiju railway, originally to be launched by both sides on September 18, only the South held a groundbreaking ceremony. It is not clear when the North will begin construction. The second round of Red Cross talks on reunions of separated families have only confirmed the principle of establishing a meeting venue. Little progress has been made on the second and third reunions themselves, on the verification of the whereabouts of family members, or on the exchange of letters. Inter-Korean defense ministers' talks are slated to take place in Cheju early next week, but differences remain huge. While the South wants to discuss the easing of military tensions in detail, the North would like to concentrate on the construction of the Seoul-Sinuiju railway. The North's delegation for inspecting economic facilities is expected to come early next week, but both the government and business circles have yet to come up with an itinerary.
At one point, it appeared as if reunification were around the corner. Some analysts see the current delays as reflecting a recovery of cool-headedness on the part of the South in the face of practical matters. Others claim that the North is slowing down the speed of dialogue.
The South promised the North large-scale economic support and a possibility of cooperation. The government, however, has yet to garner the international cooperation necessary to raise the funds that will be needed. The United States and Japan have not readily come forward to provide economic support to North Korea. Rather, they say that South Korea should shoulder the entire burden. The North has asked for a huge amount of assistance in the form of food, but because of the South's unstable economy, typhoon damage, and public pressure requiring National Assembly approval, the time and the size of the delivery have yet to be decided on. There is a rumor that the North is demanding large-scale aid toward the construction cost of the Seoul-Sinuiju railway. Many people believe that the North has become more cautious with inter-Korean negotiations because of the paltry results on the North's demands.
These aspects of rapprochement were predicted before the inter-Korean summit meeting. More problematic is the government's attitude in negotiating with the North. It has been fraught with excessive expectations and showcasing. Recently, propaganda materials saying "Kim Jong-il as president of a reunified Korea" and "traitor Lee Hoi-chang" have been found in Seoul hotels. To make matters worse, North Korean visitors behaved arrogantly, and by contrast, South officials assumed a humble demeanor. These are factors that have contributed to an ebbing of public goodwill.
Now the time has come for the government to adjust the speed of its North Korea policy. No major opposition exists in regard to the government's basic tenet, namely, its policy of engagement and providing economic support to the North. The problem is the government's attitude: one-sided, hasty, and humble. It is important for the government to return to the basics--consolidate a regime of peace through the easing of military tensions and gradually solve inter-Korean issues by forging mutual trust along the way.

by Bae Myong-bok

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