Give reunions a chanceA glimmer of hope for the long-suspended reunions of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War was dashed when North Korea refused to accept the South Korean government’s proposal for reunions around the Lunar New Year’s holidays of Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. The decision by the North - despite its leader Kim Jong-un’s gesture for conciliation in a New Year’s speech - will only deepen the families’ unfathomable pain and frustration at the grim reality of a divided Korean Peninsula.
In yesterday’s telephone notice sent by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, the North assessed the South’s reunion offer in a generally positive way by saying it would be good if the South Korean government really made the proposal with the intention of easing the pain of partition and improving bilateral ties. But it found fault with South Korea’s recent military drills.
Still, North Korea left room for reunions in the future by adding that if the South was willing to discuss some of the North’s other proposals, it could sit down for talks. That remark suggested that Pyongyang could embrace our government’s call for reunions if we cancel the annual military exercise scheduled for next month and accept its demands for the resumption of tours to the resort on Mount Kumgang, which stopped after a North Korean guard fatally shot a South Korean tourist there for reasons that have never been fully explained.
As we have repeatedly stressed, reunions of separated families are a humanitarian issue that has nothing to do with politics and should have nothing to do with politics. The reunions have the goal of relieving the intense pain of families separated for more than six decades. It is utterly inhumane for the North to link the reunions to political and economic issues.
President Park Geun-hye came up with the reunion proposal in her New Year’s press conference as a reaction to Kim Jong-un’s urging of improved ties in his New Year’s address. Park also likely hoped to find a breakthrough in deadlocked inter-Korean ties through her proposal. If Kim sincerely wants to improve relations, he must accommodate our government’s reunion proposal.
North Korea has cited time and seasonal factors as reasons for rejecting our government’s proposal. It is certainly true that both sides are short on time, and the cold winter season is not the best time for old people to move about. But those are not insurmountable obstacles. If Pyongyang is really determined to hold the reunions, we can find solutions. We urge the North to rethink its decision.