A forward-looking offerAmid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang continues to ratchet up its aggressive moves against South Korea, the United States and Japan after long-range missile launches and nuclear tests. The United Nations has emphatically denounced the North’s dangerous actions through the tough Security Council Resolution 2094, which was even approved by staunch North Korea ally, China.
South Korea and the U.S. are conducting an annual joint military exercise. Though the scale of the drill is no bigger than before, the authorities have made public some aspects of the exercise to give Pyongyang the stern warning: We will retaliate against any aggression from the North.
But this stressful mood is not likely to last long given that the joint drill will be over next month and North Korea can’t afford to maintain such high tensions until after April 15, which is Kim Il Sung’s birthday and the biggest holiday in the North. Pyongyang has spent a massive amount of money, going far beyond its financial capabilities, on its military exercises. Even though the alarming spat of drills are aimed at solidifying internal unity, North Korea’s nomenklatura and ordinary citizens will surely be exhausted.
Amid the mounting tensions, the ministries of unification and foreign affairs yesterday advised President Park Geun-hye to consider aid to the North as part of a trust-building process. Despite the impression that the move comes out of the blue, the proposal carries great significance.
First of all, the recommendation is vastly different from the Lee Myung-bak administration’s hard-line approach to North Korea: No aid whatsoever unless Pyongyang abandons its cherished nuclear ambitions. But the Park administration underscored the importance of building mutual trust before discussing the nuclear issue. The new government has also expressed an intention to resume tourism at Mount Kumgang after incrementally building trust through humanitarian aid to malnourished North Korean children, meetings of families separated after the 1950-53 Korean War and other social and cultural exchanges.
But that does not necessarily mean a return to the days of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. President Park stressed the importance of public consensus and consistency in North Korea policy on the path towards the unification of this divided land. Park’s remarks translate into a resolution to put unstable inter-Korean relations back on track. We hope Pyongyang accepts the new government’s forward-looking offer.