Stop Giving In to the NorthWhen North Korean family members arrived at Kimpo International Airport for the second round of North-South family reunions, they were met not by the president of the Korea National Red Cross, the organization managing the event on the Southern side, but by the vice president.
This is because the president, Mr. Chang Choong-shik, had suddenly departed for Japan. The Red Cross explained this by saying that Mr. Chang thought it best that he be absent from Seoul to help assure that the event went off without a hitch.
It seems much more likely that this was an arrangement made by the government in response to the North''s reaction to an interview with Mr. Chang that appeared in the Monthly Choson. His Northern counterparts took offense at some of Mr. Chang''s comments, demanded an apology, and insisted that he be replaced. They even went so far as to threaten to call off the second round of reunions if Mr. Chang was to remain in Seoul during them.
We have repeatedly expressed our support for the program of family reunions. But we regard it as highly problematic when the North holds such a humanitarian event hostage, demanding that a Southern official be replaced over a few comments. Instead of countering the North''s complaint with some appropriate response, apparently the government has simply had Mr. Chang whisked off to Japan. This sort of obedient, humble posturing leaves us at a loss for words. Does the administration think that we should put up with anything if it is for the sake of the success of the reunion program? We cannot help questioning the government''s priorities. Is this the sort of behavior one expects from a sovereign entity?
If the contents of Mr. Chang''s interview were such that our government also saw them as a problem, then he should have been replaced for the sake of maintaining an atmostphere of harmony with the North. If this was not the case and it was simply a misunderstanding on the part of the North, then the government should have made some effort to bring the North around, even if this involved delaying the next exchange of reunions. And if, as the opposition party claims, Mr. Chang''s leaving was due in part to government coercion, someone should look into this thoroughly to find out exactly who made that decision and why. We have to set some limits to how far backward we are willing to bend over to keep the North happy. When the government''s attitude of accommodation goes beyond the point of appearing embarrassingly obsequious to the citizenry or when the government uses unreasonable means to push its programs forward, it is bound to be criticized for getting its priorities wrong.
One thing that is generating a lot of problems in carrying out our agenda with the North is the fact that, while on the surface it appears that all the exchanges and events are being handled by the Ministry of Unification or the Red Cross, in actuality it is National Intelligence Service officials who are pulling the strings in behind-the-scenes deals with the North and controlling the flow of information. If the mishandling of Mr. Chang''s case stems from this same duality, something should be done to pinpoint the responsilility and we should use this as an occasion to make appropriate modifications in transactions with the North. If those involved stick to their obviously trumped-up story that Mr. Chang''s leaving Seoul was all his idea and no one influenced him, they will only aggravate distrust in the government''s policies toward North Korea. The government should be aware that more and more Koreans are beginning to doubt the value of family reunions under these circumstances.