[OUTLOOK]A turning point in relations?Five years ago, South and North Korea announced the June 15 inter-Korean Joint Declaration, which was a groundbreaking turning point for changing the paradigm of inter-Korean relations from confrontation and conflict to reconciliation and cooperation, and coexistence and co-prosperity.
Though the efforts to improve inter-Korean relations have encountered a crisis since the joint declaration due to the conflict between the North and the international community over the North’s nuclear program, clearly inter-Korean relations are proceeding toward a new age.
South and North Korea have continuously held a dialogue in various forms between the government authorities and expanded inter-Korean economic cooperation and exchange, including the connection of inter-Korean railways and roads, the Mount Kumgang tourism project and Kaesong Industrial Complex project.
The annual inter-Korean exchange of people has reached 20,000, the number of tourists to Mount Kumgang exceeded a million people, and more than 500 South Koreans are working at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Our government’s constant pursuit of the three major economic cooperation projects simultaneously brings about the tension-relieving effect of reducing the risk of war by breaking down the barrier of the Armistice Line and making a “neutral zone,” a land shared by the two Koreas.
When the United States recently withdrew a group working on finding the remains of U.S. military servicemen who died in the North during the Korean War, we held a fashion show at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and expanded economic cooperation with the North. With numerous South Koreans in the North, a war may not be carried out.
Despite the ongoing second North Korean nuclear crisis, we are enjoying peace and stability to some degree because we have consistently pursued agreements on the coexistence of North and South Korea and a reconciliation and cooperation policy through the June 15 Joint Declaration.
At the June 15 Unification Grand Festival in Pyongyang, civic delegations from South and North Korea and overseas emphasized in one voice the coexistence and co-prosperity of the Koreas, national cooperation and removal of the threat of a nuclear war according to the spirit of the June 15 Joint Declaration.
The participation of the South and North Korean government delegations in the June 15 Unification Grand Festival opened a door to dialogue between high-ranking officials. North Korea’s hospitable reception of South Korean government officials and the long hours of discussion between the North and South Korean government authorities over the situation on the Korean Peninsula are good signs for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis and the progress of inter-Korean relations.
In particular, the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Unification Minister Chung Dong-young has the significance of providing an epoch-making turning point for normalizing stagnant inter-Korean relations and turning the phase of crisis on the Korean Peninsula to the phase of dialogue.
Mr. Chung appealed for efforts to eliminate obstacles so as to end the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Chung explained to the North Korean leadership the agreements at the summit talks between South Korea and the United States, including the guarantee of regime security upon the resolution of the nuclear crisis and improvement in relations between North Korea and the United States and our “important proposals,” and urged the North to make a strategic decision.
This meeting paved the way to stabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula that was plunging into a crisis after the third round of the six-party talks in June last year and to solve the North Korean nuclear problem with dialogue.
It seemed as if the 15th inter-Korean ministerial-level talks have started in Pyongyang already. When these talks lead to another round in Seoul, the long period of the standoff will be over and inter-Korean relations will make faster progress.
Inter-Korean relations made progress, because Kim Jong-il and then-president Kim Dae-jung agreed to end the war and pursue coexistence and co-prosperity through the June 15 Joint Declaration in 2000. The conflict between the North and the United States remains unresolved because North Korea and the United States could not solve the hostile relations that have existed since the Korean War and because the two countries continue to distrust each other.
South and North Korea reached an agreement on coexistence, but North Korea and the United States could not. For the North to solve the hostile relations and distrust toward the United States, inter-Korean relations should first be normalized. When inter-Korean relations proceed, the two Koreas can strengthen their position toward the United States.
The normalization of inter-Korean relations laid the groundwork for the resumption of the six-party talks. When the direction of the United States’ North Korea policy is decided, a fourth round of the six-party talks is highly likely to be held, around July. The basic spirit of the June 15 Joint Declaration is to realize the principles of the coexistence of the two Koreas and the resolution of the problem on the Korean Peninsula by the parties concerned. But the North Korean nuclear problem made the situation on the Korean Peninsula an international issue.
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration, both South and North Korea should break the deterministic way of thinking that the resolution of the Korean Peninsula problem depends on foreign powers, and take the lead in solving the nuclear problem.
* The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Koh Yu-hwan