Reopen communication channels

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Reopen communication channels

President Park Geun-hye hinted at the possibility of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in an interview with Le Figaro. In an earlier interview with the Washington Post, the president took a dimmer view, asking, “What kind of an immediate effect can we expect from it?” This time, however, she expressed a willingness to meet with Kim for better inter-Korean relations.

Since Park’s inauguration in February, South-North relations have been overly contentious. Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last vestige of inter-Korean economic cooperation, was shut down for nearly five months and the military confrontation, albeit just rhetoric, reached a climax. The agreement to resume reunions of separated families ended up going nowhere, and Pyongyang has been denouncing Park’s North Korea policy. It was under such circumstances that the president mentioned a possibility of an inter-Korean summit.

Park’s policy toward the North is solidly based on a “trust-building process,” the establishment of consistent and sustainable bilateral ties through the incremental accumulation of mutual confidence. To achieve the goal, the president proposed the creation of a peace park along the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone and an extension of South-North railways to Siberia. The resumption of Kaesong operations also reflected Park’s idea of expanding it to a permanent multinational joint venture.

We believe the detailed action plans can be devised through working-level talks between the two Koreas. But without a summit-level agreement, no project is likely to start. That suggests the president made her summit about-face after honing her initiatives as part of a bigger framework. Park’s proposal, coming with about four years left in her term of office, could be good for putting strained South-North ties back on track.

But Park’s peace initiative faces daunting challenges, as seen by Pyongyang’s repeated vows “not to scrap nuclear weapons” and racheted-up criticism of the “trust-building process.” Communication channels also have been cut off between Seoul and Pyongyang. To break the numbing deadlock, the government first must reopen those channels, including an exchange of special emissaries, which led to the monumental July 4 Joint Statement in 1972.

Park’s “trust-building process” doesn’t link the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons to South-North relations. We hope her statement will break the stalemate.
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