North must demonstrate sinceritySouth Korea and North Korea agreed to hold high-level talks in Seoul tomorrow, the first such government dialogue in six years. Despite worries about tense disagreements over the venue and procedures for the talks, Pyongyang surprisingly accepted Seoul’s terms. This indicates a sharp change in the communist regime, which resorted to violent rhetoric in the last six months as demonstrated by repeated threats of nuclear war and a unilateral shutdown of a joint industrial complex across the border.
But we cannot be overly hopeful about inter-Korean relations, which reached a new low not long ago. We have experienced numerous setbacks during past talks with Pyongyang. Future dialogue will depend on what agenda the two Koreas set and how sincere North Korea is about mending bilateral relations. The urgent issues like reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, resumption of the Mount Kumgang tourism program and reunions for separated families cannot be easily resolved.
However, we welcome the noticeable change in North Korea’s attitude, although it remains unclear what its real intentions are. Until recently, Pyongyang threatened to wipe out its enemies with nuclear weapons. We still remember its deadly attacks on our Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island. North Korea must be aware of growing skepticism and distrust in the South.
North Koreans, therefore, must demonstrate sincerity during the talks tomorrow. They must show that they came in order to break the ice and improve bilateral ties, not as part of a belligerent strategy to study the enemy. We must also be patient and cool-headed. Negotiations are not a match for victory. We should not aim to win, but try to find common ground for mutual benefit and cooperation.
What’s important is not to be too optimistic about the talks. Politicians are already getting overly excited. The main opposition Democratic Party even suggested holding a meeting between lawmakers from both sides. In 1985, the two Koreas discussed holding meetings between lawmakers at the proposal of North Korea, but the plan fell apart.
The upcoming meeting also cannot be so meaningful as the single party in North Korea cannot represent all North Koreans. Politicians should not try to use inter-Korean dialogue for self-interest. Any disagreement among us would only give the wrong idea to Pyongyang and potentially give the government ammunition to use against us.