Stop the tug of war

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Stop the tug of war

The scheduled inter-Korean talks went down the drain due to unbridgeable disagreements over the equality of the chief representatives from each country. Despite our government’s request that Kim Yang-kon, director of the United Front Department (UFD) of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, a de facto orchestrator of the South-North relations equivalent to our unification minister, represent the North Korean delegation for the high-level talks, Pyongyang refused to send him.

So, our government notified North Korea of its plan to send a vice minister of unification as our chief representative, not the minister. The North rejected that. They were sending Kang Ji-yong, director general of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, to the talks claiming he is a “ministerial-level official” in the North.

That’s a preposterous argument. In the hierarchy of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, the head of the UFD serves as the chairman, followed by the No. 2 man of the UFD as vice chairman. The No. 3 man is the director general, whom North Korea wanted to send to the talks as chief representative of its delegation.

It’s a shameful development for both Seoul and Pyongyang that such long-awaited talks have to be scuttled due to a disagreement over the relative levels of their representatives, when the two sides agreed to meet and certainly have plenty of urgent issues to discuss. That is tantamount to dashing cold water on the rising expectations of the people, including hundreds of South Korean businessmen who were running their factories in the last symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation in Kaesong.

Of course, it’s too early to jump to any permanent conclusions. Such hurriedly arranged meetings are inherently susceptible to breakdowns at any time, particularly considering the North’s fondness for belligerent provocations.

But the scheduled meeting was obviously going to deal with such important issues as the reopening of the industrial park in Kaesong and the resumption of tourism to Mount Kumgang, which was suspended after a South Korean tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard five years ago, along with more reunions of families separated by the border. But a dispute over the ranks of representatives of both sides has led to a disappointing end to a tense tug-of-war.

Both countries must take a step back. As long as they have a precious opportunity to discuss pending issues on practical terms, that should be enough. It would be of no use for them to behave in a petty or stubborn manner. We urge both sides to hold negotiations as soon as possible to overcome their differences before it’s too late.


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