[REPORTER'S DIARY]Extinguish That Torch

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]Extinguish That Torch

South Chungchong province is currently the focus of some controversy. The annual National Games will be held there this fall, and the province thinks it would be rather grand to have a torch for the national sports gala lighted on Mount Myohyang in North Korea. So attached to this idea is the provincial government that it is reportedly considering paying the North $1 million for the privilege.

The opposition Grand National Party was critical: "The current administration is now inducing even local governments to pour money into North Korea." South Chungchong province was a little defensive at this: "We have no intention to go to excessive lengths in the negotiations." But it cannot hide its lingering fondness for the idea, even saying, "We may consider sending used farm equipment and medicines to the North with support from the private sector."

The idea of symbolically lighting torches in North Korea is nothing new, and there is nothing wrong with it. There have been various efforts at exchange with the North by local governments. During last year's National Games held in Pusan, a torch was lit on Mount Kumgang. Kangwon province initiated a concerted effort with North Korea to exterminate a pest that eats pine needles. Mount Jiri, Mount Gyerong and Mount Myohyang are all traditional sites for praying for prosperity and, more recently, the welfare of the nation. To promote reconciliation and cooperation between North and South, South Chungchong province's plan to simultaneously light torches at the three mountains and combine the flames is actually a good idea. But the problem is that the project has become a "deal between North and South" rather than "cooperation between North and South."

What was discussed during last year's talks between President Kim Dae-jung and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has not been realized. But the North has occasionally demanded financial support, which has led to complaints from many South Koreans. Not many people would be happy with a local government negotiating to pay $1 million for a mere torch-lighting.

Lighting a torch for the annual national sports event is something that does not require compensation and should be part of the cooperation between North and South. I feel betrayed by the attitude of North Korea. How can the North respond like this to the things that the South has undertaken as gestures of good will?

The attitude of South Chungchong province also deserves criticism. If Chungchong province agrees that such symbolic, cooperative schemes between North and South such as torch-lighting should be paid for, this only will lead the North's begging to become habitual. This will also make cooperation between North and South more difficult. Chungchong province's $1 million payout is nonsense, and so is sending used farming equipment and medicines to the North with help from the private sector.

If the only way a torch can be lit at Mount Myohyang is by paying for it, we should forget the whole thing with no regrets. We need to think how long we will pour money into the North before it will change.



The writer is a reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Bang-hyeon

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