Start with the small stuff

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Start with the small stuff

The disagreements over the equality of representatives from South and North Korea eventually led to the breakdown of the first inter-Korean talks since February 2011. North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland yesterday issued a statement outright blaming South Korea for the failure.

The committee went so far as to renounce our government’s decision to send a vice minister - instead of a minister - of the Ministry of Unification as chief negotiator to the talks, along with a brazen warning that it has no intention to have a dialogue with its Southern counterpart in the future. All the hopes for reconciliation were suddenly dashed by the stubborn discord over the relative ranking of the representatives from each side.

It took only eight days from start to finish. As the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland proposed high-level talks last Thursday, the government responded quicker than ever before. In seven hours after the North’s proposal, the government counter-proposed to Pyongyang to have a ministerial-level meeting in Seoul on Wednesday. Next morning, Pyongyang proposed working-level talks to deal with the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex as well as the resumption of tourism to Mount Kumgang and more reunions of families separated by the border. All went surprisingly smooth and fast.

But the actual atmosphere of the working-level talks was different. Despite a 17-hour long negotiation, both sides could not reach an agreement on the level of their chief representatives, which led to a disappointing breakdown of the talks.

Both sides desired inter-Korean talks to address the impasse over the industrial park in Kaesong. After having stayed mum on the issue of shipping the raw materials and finished products left behind in Kaesong, North Korea abruptly extended the agenda to other pending issues.

The latest fiasco explicitly illustrates a critical lack of trust needed for sincere bilateral talks again. Both sides should refrain from addressing all the problems all at once. Instead, they must resolve pending issues beginning with trivial things. For instance, they can have talks to discuss ways to maintain or repair all the facilities left in the industrial park to prepare for the upcoming monsoon season.

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