[EDITORIALS]Reckless travel approvals?Among those who traveled to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang in July for a unification-related event, the Unification Ministry reportedly gave travel permission to ten people who have been monitored for security reasons and who the National Intelligence Service says should not be allowed to visit the North.
The ministry also allowed 520 applicants who wanted to see the North’s Arirang festival to visit Pyongyang without a proper identity check by the Justice Ministry. There is strong criticism that the government has been poorly controlling its citizens’ visits to the North, and concerns are growing about the aftermath.
The Unification Ministry said it allowed the ten people, whose espionage experiences were cited by the National Intelligence Service, to visit the North because they had already been punished and the ministry saw no problem in allowing their visits. The ministry said that the identity check was done by the National Police Agency when it was revealed that the Justice Ministry failed to do it.
The ministry, whose major mission is improving inter-Korean relations, may have different views than the security agencies. But there must be a reason why the National Intelligence Service said the ten applicants should not be allowed to visit the North. Regarding the identity check, the Justice Ministry said it could not check all applicants because it did not have the time. Asking for an identity check without giving the Justice Ministry sufficient time clearly shows that the Unification Ministry considered it merely a formality.
We have no intention of criticizing the Unification Ministry for having an open-minded attitude to encourage exchanges between the two Koreas. But, there are minimum principles and standards that must be respected. We are worried that the Unification Ministry issued travel approvals recklessly, paying too much attention to pleasing the North and being obsessed with encouraging exchanges.
The ill effects of irresponsible travel approvals are already visible from South Koreans’ visits to the Arirang festival. A large number of books and CDs praising the Kim Jong-il regime’s “military-first policy” have been brought back to the South by the tourists. It is time for a thorough preparation to cope with the undesirable side effects of expanded inter-Korean exchanges.