[LETTERS to the editor]Adjusting North-South ties

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[LETTERS to the editor]Adjusting North-South ties

As North Korea continues its hostile rhetoric towards South Korea, the ulterior motives and political strategies behind such actions are beginning to unravel. North Korea has constantly called for the South to live up to the spirit of the joint North-South declarations made on June 15, 2000 and Oct. 4, 2007, and incited liberal United Democratic Party legislators to side with the North.
The ulterior motive is to create political tension between relatively liberal UDP lawmakers and conservative Grand National Party legislators and eventually nudge President Lee Myung-bak to give up his hard-line stance and go back to the previous administration’s policies.
At the same time, North Korea has been eagerly continuing dialogue with the United States while adamantly refusing to talk to the South, making people in South Korea believe that inter-Korean relations are in crisis.
North Korea, which has enjoyed relative comfort under the engagement policy of previous administrations for the past decade, is now resisting the changes in the South and nudging the government to go back to the old days.
The bigger problem now is that local politicians and North Korea experts are being swayed by the North rather than objectively analyzing the North’s tactics and coming up with possible solutions.
The Lee administration has never said it would not abide by the terms of the June 15 and Oct. 4 joint declarations. Lee only said he would implement the declarations depending on progress in the North’s denuclearization, the economic feasibility of what was agreed upon in the declaration and public sentiment. To me, it sounds like Lee puts more focus on implementation than prohibitive conditions.
Lee, during his state visit to the United States, said the current blueprint for the North’s nuclear declaration should be considered adequate, given the communist country’s internal system.
And inter-Korean relations are expected to face yet another turning point after the six-party talks resume in May, ending the second phase of the North’s three-step denuclearization process and opening the door for the third-phase process.
Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong also said in the National Assembly that the government would review possible measures to realize the agreements in the joint declarations.
We need to be aware that the Lee administration is approaching inter-Korean joint economic projects, a part of the Oct. 4 declaration, from a highly practical economic perspective. This means the new administration seeks to distinguish itself from past ones, which tried so hard to push these economic projects despite a sheer lack of infrastructure in North Korea, which rarely allows any success in such projects.
Although the projects have little economic feasibility, they were pushed by the past administration that wanted to showcase contrived achievements to the public. And it is needless to say that enormous of amounts of South Korean taxpayer money has been poured into projects that had little economic feasibility and impact.
The government needs to push forward with the joint economic projects, but no such projects should be implemented without considering their economic feasibility. The South Korean government has spent enormous amounts of money for aid and joint economic projects with North Korea over the past 10 years.
But look what the North is doing now. It is threatening to turn Seoul into ashes, and no one will know for sure whether the same thing will repeat itself 10 years from now, no matter how much money we spend helping the North.
Seoul now needs to fully explain the fundamentals of its new North Korea policies to Pyongyang and give it time to adjust to the new diplomatic environment. And inter-Korean dialogue to discuss food aid to the North should take place as soon as possible.

Suh Jae-jean, Director, North Korea Studies Division, Korea Institute For National Unification
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