Unification focus of ministry reports

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Unification focus of ministry reports

The South Korean government said yesterday that it will push ahead with a project to construct an inter-Korean peace park in the demilitarized zone (DMZ), as ministries presented their foreign affairs and security reports to the president.

The reports focused heavily on reunification and North Korea policy.

The announcement follows remarks by President Park Geun-hye in her New Year’s address last month in which she stated that “reunification is daebak [the jackpot].” She emphasized this point again yesterday after hearing policy briefings from the ministries of unification, foreign affairs, national defense, and veterans and patriots.

“If last year was a period to expand our society’s understanding of the trust-building process in the Korean Peninsula within the larger picture,” said Park, “then this year’s policy deals more with setting the groundwork framework for internal stability and setting straight various abnormal practices in the North-South relationship.”

Park received the task reports at the Ministry of National Defense in Yongsan District, central Seoul, as part of a monthlong series of annual policy reports from government agencies, kicking off her second year in office.

In its report to the president, the Ministry of Unification said it plans to reach a deal with North Korea to start a DMZ world peace park project, one of Park’s ambitious campaign pledges and a move that may help ease tensions on the peninsula.

The park may be completed by as early as 2016. As its key policies, the ministry also proposed sustainable peace-building, trust-building on the Korean Peninsula and preparation for an era of unification.

It proposed cooperation with the North across various areas, including the Rajin-Khasan railway project - part of the Eurasia Initiative that would link Asia and Europe through a Silk Road Express, a network of roads and railways running from Busan through South and North Korea, Russia and China.

The project would realize two major tenets of the new administration: economic revitalization and setting a foundation for cooperation and reunification.

The report also touched upon the expanding exchange in “green detente,” in which the two Koreas can build up environmental cooperation through a DMZ peace park.

Likewise, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it is supportive of any progress toward reunification and stated it will seek closer cooperation with Washington and Beijing as it takes an effective two-track approach to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

The Foreign Ministry said it plans to use its system of collaboration with the United States and China in order to build up strong deterrence and contingency measures against North Korea’s potential military provocations. It also aims to expedite multilateral efforts to prod the North on giving up its nuclear arms program.

It also said that Seoul will increase high-level talks with Washington in regard to North Korea and expects a meeting between President Park and U.S. President Barack Obama. It is not clear if Obama will visit Seoul in his upcoming trip to Asia in April.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to visit Seoul later this month.

Korea also plans to hold strategic dialogues with China to discuss long-term security issues on the Korean Peninsula.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said to Park that the ministry will “concentrate on expanding support from the international community for an upcoming peaceful unification while establishing a system of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.”

The Defense Ministry said it will strengthen its ability to react to the North’s nuclear threats.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said yesterday that Seoul and Washington will develop a tailored deterrence strategy to prepare for any sort of North Korean nuclear threat, or other provocation, through joint military drills with the U.S. military.

“It will be difficult to properly carry out any dialogue or trust-building policy if our security is lacking,” Park said. “Peace is defended by a strong power, thus we need a thorough defense posture to deal with any provocation by North Korea.”

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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