Make Inter-Korean Negotiations Transparent

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Make Inter-Korean Negotiations Transparent

The government refurbished the offices related with North Korea, notably upgrading the Economic Cooperation Promotion Committee from the vice ministerial level to the ministerial level. It is a welcome move toward practical economic cooperation with the North from the hitherto emotionally charged events; the surprise debut of North Korea's National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il and tear-jerking reunions of separated families. What is most important at this stage is drawing public consensus to a policy of aiding North Korea. To do this, inter-Korean negotiations must be made transparent and the South Korean government should not distort or hide the truth about inter-Korea consultations.

A few days ago, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) informed North Korea about the list of long-term North Korean prisoners to be repatriated to North Korea. The MOU gave the impression that the North accepted the list without too much protest. The list did not include the names of those who have "converted" or the families of the long-term prisoners. Nevertheless, the North exposed the MOU‘s falsehood by making public information that they had sent a message demanding the unconditional return of all those who wish to return to the North.

The level of secrecy for inter-Korea relations became apparent from recent remarks of high-level government officials. President Kim Dae-jung said in an interview with CNN that an "agreement" has been reached to launch the reconstruction of the severed section of the Seoul-Sinuiju railway immediately after Chusok, Korea’s Harvest Moon Festival, which this year falls on September 12. Yet nobody knows how and when this agreement was made. During the Red Cross talks held at Mount Kumgang in late June, it was decided that the issue of repatriating unconverted prisoners would be discussed in early September. Meanwhile the date of repatriation was set for September 2, but reportedly this was not discussed at any working-level Red Cross talks. Chairman Kim Jong-il disclosed that Kim Yong-sun, chairman of the North's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, was going to visit Seoul soon after Chusok, but we have no idea how and where this was agreed upon. Culture and Tourism Minister Park Jie-won during his visit to Japan predicted that an agreement would be made on a military hotline during the upcoming ministerial talks to begin on August 29.

It is obvious that the ministerial and Red Cross talks are mere showcases, while the government negotiates with North Korea through secret channels. It may be necessary to have some unofficial, closed-door discussions for subtle, sensitive inter-Korean issues. However, with almost everything conducted behind closed doors and the government monopolizing information, the general public is inappropriately left in the dark. For instance, Korean people are entitled to know how much money will be needed to reconnect the Seoul-Sinuiju railway, how the fund will be supplied, and what will be done with the Military Demarcation Line. Additionally, they have the right to know whether the construction will lead to a compromise in security, how negotiations with the United States Forces will progress, and how the problems concerning the Armistice Agreement will be solved. These are extremely realistic questions in easing tensions and shouldering economic burdens. All these questions cannot be buried under dazzling rhetoric such as "a turning point in Korean history" or "iron Silk Road."

Governmental reorganization is all very good, but it is more important for the government to report to its citizens what negotiations with North Korea are occuring and the government should also seek public approval.

by Lee Soo-keun

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