Twice fooledInter-Korean economic cooperation talks ended Sunday with the adoption of an agreement consisting of 10 articles. The two sides agreed that Seoul will provide 400,000 tons of rice to North Korea and that the first test run of trains across the North-South border will take place on May 17. However, there were some ambiguities present in the agreement, making it plausible that it might not be followed through.
The government claims that the rice aid was linked to the Feb. 13 accord in the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear issue. It said that it made a verbal agreement with the North Koreans that the time and speed of the rice aid would depend on how well Pyongyang kept its side of the Feb. 13 accord.
That is why it was stated in the vice-ministerial-level agreement that the first shipment of rice would take place at the end of May, government officials claim. Yet it is highly doubtful that North Korea will heed a verbal agreement when it has so often in the past even ignored conditions put down in writing.
The same goes for the train run. In the agreement, it is stated only that the two sides will “cooperate enthusiastically” on the military security systems that are needed for the run to take place.
Last year, the run fell through when North Korea suddenly informed the South that it would not allow the train to cross the border, just one day before the scheduled run.
Moreover, military security systems are a complex issue because the North is trying to link them to the readjustment of maritime boundaries between the two Koreas. It is not an issue that will be easily settled, to say the least. It is highly improbable that the two sides can reach an agreement within the twenty days or so left until the scheduled test run.
Since the Feb. 13 accord, the government seems to have been busily moving its North Korea policies. Too busily, in fact. It wasted 3.6 billion won ($3.88 million) of tax money to buy crude oil based on the hasty assumption that the North would keep its side of the deal.
The agreement on Sunday, too, is a sign of how clumsy and impatient we are when it comes to dealing with the North.
It is true that we can’t expect an even ratio of give-and-take when it comes to giving humanitarian aid to the North. However, it is also true that we can’t go on giving first without asking and then wait for the North to react favorably. Not only is this ineffective, it is also dangerous because it could cause internal strife among us.
We need to change our method of providing aid to the North, basing it on the changes that the North shows first. The rice aid to North Korea should be given only after the North keeps its side of the Feb. 13 accord.