Two-track strategy on North

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Two-track strategy on North

At the dawn of a new year, North Korea has been stepping up its peace offensive in a remarkable fashion. Following a New Year’s editorial by its state mouthpieces and a communique by the government, the Korean Workers’ Party and other groups last week, Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland has proposed “unconditional talks” between the two governments.

It has also proposed a meeting between the South and North Korean Red Cross, a preliminary meeting for the resumption of the Mount Kumgang tourism program and talks involving the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The North’s proposals almost amount to begging for dialogue, in sharp contrast with its earlier vows to sever all relationships with its counterpart during the remaining term of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

The South Korean government has shown a prudent response to the offer by closely analyzing the background for the remarkable shift. Less than two months have passed since the North’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island. The government will find it difficult to readily accept the North’s proposal because it still makes us doubtful of the sincerity of the gestures at a moment when it has not yet apologized for the sinking of the Cheonan warship and its shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

However, the government cannot simply ignore the proposal, either. With the U.S.-China summit slated for Jan. 19 in Washington, a new mood for dialogue between the concerned parties is being created. And a need for dialogue between South and North is also being stressed. If we stick to a knee-jerk rejection of the proposal, we may end up taking the blame for the rupture. And in a worst-case scenario, we may be dragged into the appeasement effort as a result of pressure from neighboring countries.

What we need now is a two-track policy of deterring the North’s further aggression by maintaining a heightened security alertness, while leaving open a door for dialogue with the North. Rather than flatly dismissing the proposal, it would be better if the government can throw the ball into the North’s court through a counterproposal with certain conditions attached. For example, the government can unconditionally accept the North’s proposal for a Red Cross meeting for a reunion of separated families, while attaching strings to a government-level meeting by demanding an apology for the two attacks. Prolongation of the status quo is not beneficial to either side.
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