[EDITORIALS]The North's big chance

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[EDITORIALS]The North's big chance

China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said Wednesday that Beijing, Pyeongyang and Seoul are discussing measures to allow Chinese soccer fans to travel through North Korea to attend World Cup games in the South. Meanwhile, South Koreans are looking at the possibility of opening inter-Korean overland tour routes.

Ever since the World Cup draw in November, when the Chinese team was assigned to play matches in the South, possible inter-Korean paths to transport foreign tourists have been discussed in the South. But the tensions between the North and the United States, poor road conditions and delays in the construction project relinking the inter-Korean railway hindered the progress of opening inter-Korean tour routes.

The Chinese foreign minister has officially talked about the project, and the South Korean government and the United Nations Command in the peninsula are reviewing the possibility of opening the inter-Korean overland route in a positive light. If the North agrees with the plan, having the route is highly feasible.

North Korean authorities may oppose the idea of having 100,000 Chinese tourists pass through the Panmunjeom truce village. The North may also oppose the plan because of its symbolic meaning. Moreover, some South Koreans may protest the establishment of the tour routes because the routes may take the spotlight away from the World Cup; some may also worry about the North trying to attract foreign tourists to its Arirang festival next month.

The inter-Korean tour program may end up as nothing more than a temporary measure limited to Chinese tourists during the World Cup competition. Still, the realization of such a project would be a valuable achievement because it would encourage tangible exchanges of goods and people among China and the two Koreas.

The negotiation process with North Korea could provide an opportunity of inducing the North to come out from a self-imposed isolation. The North has rejected all offers of dialogue after President George W. Bush labeled the North an "axis of evil." South Korea, China and the UN Command should put all their energy into making the inter-Korean overland tour routes. The North should not let this opportunity slip. We urge Pyeongyang to open up and begin talks with the international community.

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