[EDITORIALS]Lip service from the NorthThe 15th inter-Korean ministerial meeting held in Seoul concluded yesterday. Its significance is that it has revived an official channel between the South and the North after more than a year’s suspension. An absence of dialogue was of no help in reducing tension between the two Koreas. They have agreed to break ground for the construction of a meeting place for reunions of separated families, and to promote cooperation in the agriculture and fishery sectors. The agreements will contribute to the progress of inter-Korean relations.
The North asked the South for 400,000 tons of rice. It is estimated that the North will be in need of 1 million tons of rice this year. A vast number of North Koreans face the threat of famine. On humanitarian grounds alone, it is inevitable that the North will be provided with rice.
What matters is whether active inter-Korean cooperation and aid to the North will contribute to a solution to the nuclear problem. We hope the process of cooperation will lead to a breakthrough, as our government intends. But from watching the attitude of the North Korean delegation at the meetings, we cannot help but doubt that such expectations will be satisfied.
With regard to the nuclear problem, the northern side did not move a step from the position Kim Jong-il stated to Unification Minister Chung Dong-young last week. They repeated his assertion that the North could give up nuclear weapons, if the United States recognizes and respects the regime.
On such matters as the resumption of military talks, and tracing the fate of South Korean prisoners from the Korean War and repatriating them, the North Koreans resorted to tactics of evasion, saying things such as “We understand. We will report to our superiors.” In sum, the North was keen on gaining what it wanted from us, like rice, but exposed its intention to gloss over our requests with lip service.
We should not necessarily respond to the North on the basis of one-to-one reciprocity. However, the situation that prevailed in this meeting, in which the nuclear problem was left in obscurity while Seoul expanded its aid to the North, should not be repeated. Pyongyang is still pursuing its strategy of securing fertilizer and rice from Seoul while discussing the nuclear issue only with Washington. If things continue this way, aid to the North should be limited. The government must examine how much effect its tactics of flattering the North will have in resolving the nuclear crisis.