[OUTLOOK]Military talks provide hope

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[OUTLOOK]Military talks provide hope

A meeting of senior military officers from South and North Korea is scheduled to open Wednesday at the Mount Geumgang resort in the North. It will be the first top-level military talks since the defense ministers’ meeting on Jeju island in September 2000. It is hoped that these talks will bring results in alleviating military tension and building trust between the two Koreas.
Since the summit meeting in June 2000, there have been many positive changes in inter-Korean relations. There has been an amazing increase in human and material exchanges in the economic and social areas, and inter-governmental talks in various fields have been carried on actively. In particular, construction of the Gaeseong industrial complex, a large-scale economic cooperation project, has commenced with the building of a model complex and creation of an 810-acre building site since last April. This was unthinkable just a few years ago.
Now, the development of inter-Korean relations through exchange and cooperation is a flow that no one can stop. Yet the Korean Peninsula is still divided. In this situation of North-South confrontation, military trust-building and alleviation of tension are prerequisites for peace and reunification of the peninsula. Economic and military cooperation should go together for a balanced development of North-South relations. But right now, we are seeing only economic cooperation. We need progress on the security issue for a realistic development of our relations.
In the North-South summit meeting in 2000, leaders of both sides agreed to work together to alleviate military tension and secure peace. As a senior representative of the South Korean delegation in a ministerial-level meeting in the past, I had urged the North to change its views on military agreements. In a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in September 2000, I reconfirmed his agreement to talks between defense ministers on alleviating tension on the peninsula.
As a result, in the second North-South ministerial-level meeting, the two sides agreed to hold a top-level military meeting in the near future. Based on this agreement, the first meeting of defense ministers was held on Jeju island and both sides agreed on efforts for cooperation between the two armies in securing the passage of civilians and their exchange, and in solving any related military issues that might arise. A second meeting was scheduled to discuss the matter further. But the lackluster attitude of the North has kept the second meeting from happening so far.
The process has been difficult, but North Korea’s reaction also gives hope that very significant progress can be made in establishing peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. In this meeting, the two sides will discuss the military tension that escalates around this time of the year in the Yellow Sea over crab fishing and also the longer-term goals of alleviating military tension and taking confidence-building measures.
Military talks and cooperation between the North and the South have started rather belatedly. If these top-level military talks produce results and these results continue, however, peace will advance on the peninsula. It would take more than one meeting, but should these senior-level military talks continue, we could hope for a second meeting of defense ministers.
For this, a practical negotiating mind is required from both the North and the South. The North should refrain from its former view that any military issues are between the North and the United States only. Also, for the smooth progress of military cooperation between the North and the South, Kim Jong-il’s will is needed. I hope the North realizes once again that only a balanced development of economic cooperation and military cooperation can enlighten the future of North-South relations.

* 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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