[OUTLOOK]Building a solid ‘castle of trust’

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[OUTLOOK]Building a solid ‘castle of trust’

The “castle of trust” between South and North Korea can be built solidly by keeping promises one by one. North Korea has recently broken the promise of holding inter-Korean general-level talks and other economic talks.
Both parties had already agreed to hold in March three working-level consultative meetings on trade settlements, railroads and road connections and the prevention of flooding in the Imjin River basin. But as the scheduled date drew near, the North demanded a change of venue and the date.
The North requested a change in venue for the third working-level consultative meeting on trade settlements, scheduled for Paju in South Korea, to Gaeseong on the grounds of the “uncertain situation in South Korea due to the presidential impeachment.”
It delayed the fourth working-level consultative meeting on railroads and roads and the third working-level consultative meeting on the prevention of flooding in the Imjin River basin, scheduled for Gaeseong in North Korea, due to the South Korea-United States combined military exercise.
The North’s behavior of canceling agreed-upon meetings when they are close at hand is nothing new. Until now, North Korea has delayed or cancelled meetings 15 times since the inter-Korean summit talks on June 15, 2000.
It has given various reasons for the cancellations, including the South Korea-U. S. combined military exercises, U. S. policy toward North Korea, our domestic actions based on changes in the international situation such as the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States and the war in Iraq, remarks by certain figures from our delegation, and discontent with inter-Korean relations.
In the fifth ministerial talks, the North one-sidedly sent notification on the very morning of the meeting, without a specific explanation, that it could not come to Seoul because of “various circumstances.”
Many experts on North Korea point out that behind these excuses lies the North’s intention to watch the sudden changes of situation strengthen its internal solidarity, spread anti-American sentiment by advocating national cooperation, and enhance its negotiating position in subsequent talks by putting pressure on South Korea and the United States.
But we doubt whether such intentions served the North’s interests at all. The North should know that a repetition of this situation will gradually cool our wish to help it and hinder our efforts to promote inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, the major agreement of the June 15 Joint Declaration.
The basic spirit of the June 15 Joint Declaration is not “exclusive cooperation between two Koreas” as Pyeongyang asserts. It is a declaration of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, of peace on the Korean Peninsula, and of national unification. It aims to achieve unification by achieving inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation and making peace.
Since the inter-Korean joint declaration in 2000, the inter-Korean exchange of people and goods has increased year by year. Last year alone, over 16,000 people visited each others’ side and the amount of inter-Korean trade exceeded $700 million.
As economic cooperation expands and develops, cooperation in the military sector should be also developed. Peace, suited to the level of exchange and cooperation, should also be secured on the Korean Peninsula. Military talks should also be held, not just to resolve the North’s nuclear problem peacefully but also to consult in earnest on the issue of easing the military tension in Korea.
It is contradictory for the North not to keep even small inter-Korean agreements while it always talks about a good cause. The foundation for inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation is belief and trust between the North and the South. North Korea should know that its faithless words and behavior weaken the South’s cause and determination to promote dialogue, exchange and cooperation, and that the damage it causes will return to itself like a boomerang.
Now, the North should not neglect even small inter-Korean promises. The North should not forget that its breach of promise, whatever good evaluation it may get domestically, gives a negative impression to the South Korean authorities and people and will be of no help in the development of inter-Korean relations.
Before long, in May, it will be the height of the season to catch blue crabs. In the 13th ministerial talks held in early February, both countries agreed to hold inter-Korean general officer talks to prevent accidental military conflicts in the Yellow Sea. But Pyeongyang has shown no response for almost two months since Seoul proposed the talks.
In the past, the two Koreas experienced small and big military conflicts in the Yellow Sea. The skirmish of June 2002 took its toll on innocent soldiers. If military conflict happens again in the Yellow Sea, the hearts of South Koreans concerning inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation are bound to become cold.
I expect that North Korea will hold the agreed-upon general-level talks as early as possible and heal the distrust arising from its breach of agreements.

* The writer, a former minister of unification, is the president of Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Jae-kyu
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