Panel faults South’s policies on North

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Panel faults South’s policies on North

The Lee Myung-bak administration and the Unification Ministry have a long way to go before they make good grades for relations with the North.

That, at least, was the verdict yesterday of an independent panel of experts set up to evaluate the performance of the Unification Ministry.

The evaluators said the South Korean government’s efforts to engage North Korea in social and cultural exchange programs and agricultural cooperation were “inadequate” last year, and urged the ministry to keep its ears open to different opinions.

In a report submitted to the National Assembly, the panel graded the ministry on 36 tasks using a five-level rating scale, ranging from “good” to “inadequate.”

Twenty independent civilian experts formed the evaluation committee to assess the level of accomplishments on each task.

The committee also looked at whether policy plans had been properly drawn up and whether they were effectively carried out.

The committee noted that under the Lee administration, the South government hasn’t approved a single project involving inter-Korean social and cultural exchanges. In agricultural cooperation, the committee noted that the government failed to follow up on its pledge from early 2009 that it would pursue a joint farming project.

Under the conservative Lee government, inter-Korean relations have soured. Lee suspended unconditional rice and fertilizer aid to the North, linking aid to Pyongyang’s efforts to denuclearize.

Several events have also dealt blows to inter-Korean ties.

In July 2008, a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang resort north of the border was shot dead by a North Korean soldier.

Kumgang tours have remained suspended ever since.

The North conducted its second nuclear test in May last year and has since fired a slew of missiles toward South Korean waters. Tensions remain on the peninsula as South Korea and other allies try to bring the North back to the stalled six-party talks.

Yesterday’s report acknowledged that deteriorated inter-Korean relations have had a direct impact on cross-border exchange projects, but still argued the Lee government should have exerted greater efforts.

“The government was inadequate in its research and in gathering opinions [from different quarters],” the report read. “There are also opinions that the government has been reluctant to engage in inter-Korean exchange projects.

“In building policies in the future, the government needs to reflect a wide range of opinions from civic groups and experts,” the report added. “It also needs to strengthen the basis for increased inter-Korean exchange and cooperation by restructuring related systems.”

The report, however, gave higher marks to the government on other categories. Five categories - including improving support for families of South Koreans abducted to the North, upgrading business environment at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, and setting up a support system for North Korean defectors in the South - received the highest grade.

By Yoo Jee-ho []
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