Rethink reunion strategyDiscussions over a potential reunion of families separated by the heavily guarded border between North and South Korea have hit an impasse, as the two sides sharply disagree over the location of such a meeting.
South Korea proposed that the families get together at accommodations within the Mount Kumgang resort. But Pyongyang says it will only agree to the proposal if Seoul resumes its tours to the area, which South Korea halted after a tourist was shot to death there by a North Korean soldier.
The disagreement has put the brakes on the reunion.
“As long as the North insists on the resumption of tours as a precondition for the reunion event, we won’t have such a meeting,” said a top official from the Blue House.
At an earlier meeting between the Red Cross organizations in each country on Sept. 17, both sides agreed to have a reunion from Oct. 17 to 21.
The conflict over the location makes this seem highly unlikely, as it takes at least a month to prepare for such an event.
North Korea should take responsibility for the stalemate, as it is once again seeking political advantages through a humanitarian event.
On Sept. 10, the North Korean Red Cross proposed a reunion aimed at “relieving the pain of separated families on the occasion of Chuseok,” adding that it wanted to have the meeting at Mount Kumgang. But North Korea has two other goals in mind: get South Korea to resume tours to the area and secure more aid.
The offer by the South Korean Red Cross to provide 5,000 tons of rice and 10,000 bags of cement to flood-ravaged areas of North Korea falls way short of Pyongyang’s expectations.
So the North is trying to get more aid by making an issue of the location of a reunion.
We hope North Korea will look at this from a humanitarian perspective and pave the way for a reunion meeting.
But our government’s stern response to the North is also problematic. If the government sticks to its position that it will not participate in such a meeting if the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang is a precondition, it will drive a nail into the hearts of many separated families.
Of course, it might be difficult for the government to resume tours to Mount Kumgang until it gets an apology from North Korea for the sinking of the Cheonan and the death of a South Korean tourist. But the government has gone too far in signaling that it doesn’t care about the event. It can still propose alternative locations or raise the scale of rice aid based on the size of the reunion.