Hopeful signs from NorthSouth and North Korea agreed on three points at the high-level talks at Panmunjom yesterday: to hold reunions of war-separated families at the Mount Kumgang resort from Feb. 20 to 25 as scheduled; to stop slander against each other; and to have additional high-level talks to break the deadlock in inter-Korean relations. The agreements carry great significance as they are the first tangible diplomatic results since the launch of the Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un governments. Both sides struck a deal amid practical constraints like the North’s nuclear threats and the upcoming Korea-U.S. military drills. We hope the agreements pave the way for improved Seoul-Pyongyang ties.
When Pyongyang linked the talks to the annual joint drills, the war-separated families had a heart-wrenching moment as they feared that the reunions would be sacrificed to politics. We urge Seoul and Pyongyang to embark on building trust through the reunions on humanitarian grounds.
North Korea first raised the issue of stopping exchanges of verbal attacks. The North’s paranoid response to our military’s attempt to resume its propaganda campaign through loudspeakers after the 2010 sinking of the warship Cheonan showed how much weight the North attaches to the suspension of the campaign. In the arduous process of establishing a new one-man rule in North Korea - as evidenced by Kim’s drastic execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek late last year - any infiltration of hostile information from the South could lead to an alarming awareness of the North’s instability and vulnerability.
North Korea found fault with our media’s antagonistic attitudes towards the regime as well. As the North criticizes our civilian groups’ voluntary campaigns, our government needs to consult with the North on the issue, but firmly based on the spirit of liberal democracy. Any kind of crackdown could trigger internal discord in the South. We expect Pyongyang to first prove itself by ending its own propaganda war.
Yet the agreements are positive signs for a better future as they could lead to a regularization of high-level talks. Though the high-level talks were made possible by the Blue House and the North’s United Front Department, it would be better if the talks were pursued between our Ministry of Unification and the North’s UFD or between our Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces. We hope the agreement opens an opportunity to expand inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 15, Page 30