Next Steps for North and South

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Next Steps for North and South

To judge from the editorial-style New Year''s message that was published in all major North Korean newspapers at the same time, it appears that there will be no major change in the direction of dialogue and cooperation between the North and the South. The message spouted the usual revolutionary line and the "building of a prosperous, powerful country," but it emphasized that the nation''s economic strength forms the basis for revitalizing socialism and called for technological reconstruction and improvements in the economic administrative system.

This is evidence that economic pragmatism is gaining strength in Pyongyang and it can be interpreted as a sign that, at least in some small way, change is beginning to take hold there. It is noteworthy that the message overflows with praise of National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il''s having become the object of international attention last year. Although the North has not yet been able to achieve its goal of better relations with the United States, the message left the door open, saying, "We will improve relations with any country that shows respect for our sovereignty."

In view of this, we can safely assume that through further rapprochement with the South in the coming year, North Korea will continue to open its economy to a limited degree and will pursue improved relations internationally. The North seems to have chosen the strengthening of the country''s economy as its basic course of action for the foreseeable future. Our government should plan its policies toward the North with these considerations in mind. A look at surveys done at the beginning of the year shows that the public believes that such humane projects as reunions of separated families are meaningful and important but many people criticized the government''s meek, "big giveaway" approach to relations with the North. South Koreans hope for progress in such areas as reducing military tension but feel that the government has rushed ahead with an overly magnanimous policy.

We believe that the time has come for the government to stop staging North-South events mainly for show and stop allowing negotiations to degenerate into haggling. It is time to go on to the next stage and put on the agenda specific proposals that will ease military tension, turn the armistice into a real peace accord and create a mechanism that can assure permanent peace. The two sides also need to find workable proposals for institutionalizing reunions of separated families by setting up permanent reunion centers and allowing exchanges of mail and home visits. Also, trade and other economic exchanges must be based on sound principles of mutual benefit.

Before the Bush administration, which is known to maintain a hard line in regard to North Korea, settles on what direction it will take in relations with Pyongyang, it is especially important for both Seoul and Pyongyang to convince Washington that the course of rapprochement between North and South cannot and must not be reversed and to provide the new U.S. administration with evidence that real change is taking place in North Korea. Without such action, the road that leads the North eventually to become an open society and to participate in the international community could be blocked, and this would be a huge obstacle in the way of Pyongyang''s efforts to strengthen itself economically. From that viewpoint, a visit to Seoul by Chairman Kim at some early date would provide assurance that relations are moving forward. It is important that leaders from both sides show the world that we are working together toward a lasting peace.
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