[Viewpoint]Trust must come first

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[Viewpoint]Trust must come first

Despite some shortcomings, the general impression about the 2007 inter-Korean summit meeting is that it resulted in a number of unexpected agreements.
It gives us hope that inter-Korean relations will reach a new level if these agreements, which were beyond our expectations, are faithfully carried out.
The leaders of the two Koreas agreed to hold a defense ministerial meeting in November to discuss easing military tensions and to work on building trust between the South and the North, something that is considered to have significant meaning.
For the past seven years since the June 15, 2000 summit meeting, there have been more than 30 military meetings between South and North Korean generals, as well as working-level meetings.
However, despite Seoul’s continued demands, there has been only one meeting of the defense ministers.
The upcoming inter-Korean defense ministerial meeting will deal with the plan to designate joint fishing waters in the Yellow Sea as well measures to establish military trust, including the military security issues involved in the planned collaborative projects.
Pyongyang has generally shown a lukewarm attitude about realistic measures to relax tensions and on the building of military trust between the South and the North.
In fact, the North has considered the establishment of military trust to be a substantial threat and challenge to its regime, and has maintained a noncommittal approach.
Nevertheless, the North has never failed to demand that the maritime border in the Yellow Sea be realigned at every general-level meeting between the two Koreas.
Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility that Pyongyang will make renegotiating the Northern Limit Line a priority in the November ministerial meeting.
If Pyongyang raises the Northern Limit Line issue, we need to maintain our position that the existing line must remain the non-aggression boundary in the Yellow Sea.
We must keep in mind the fact that if we don’t, we might risk denying the legitimacy of the line, based on international law, which has been maintained since 1953.
Seoul and Pyongyang should minimize their respective security risks by expanding and systemizing mutual exchanges and cooperation.
At the same time, we need to gradually seek ways to share and maximize both parties’ political and economic interests.
In this case, the South and the North can gradually turn the military significance of the Northern Limit Line into an economic benefit, as long as Pyongyang respects the existing line.
For full-scale economic cooperation, the two Koreas can actively seek economic, scientific and technical collaborations, including the designation of a “shared fishery zone” in the Yellow Sea.
By actively leading working-level military meetings to resolve various military issues that might pop up in the course of bringing about economic cooperation in the Yellow Sea, we can create a foundation there for the establishment of military trust.
Based on the clause in the inter-Korean agreement that negotiations will continue on a nonaggression boundary between the South and the North, Pyongyang might insist right away on discussing the re-establishment of the maritime border in the Yellow Sea.
However, this assertion would fail to realize the fact that the reestablishment of the Yellow Sea border requires building military trust between the two Koreas.
Discussing a new border in the Yellow Sea without such trust is neither realistic nor logical.
Therefore, in order to settle the peace issue in the Yellow Sea, the two Koreas have to make their best efforts to first establish substantial military trust.
That’s why Seoul and Pyongyang have to use the upcoming defense ministerial meeting in November as an opportunity to abandon their hostilities, ease military tensions and hammer out real plans for the construction of trust between the two militaries.

*The writer is the director of the Division of North Korean Studies at the Korea Institute for National Unification. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jeung Young-tai
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