Flexibility for inter-Korean tiesSouth Korea on Monday proposed to North Korea to hold high-level talks on Aug. 19. In a fax message in the name of Kim Kyou-hyun, first deputy director of National Security Office to the president, Seoul suggested the second round of high-level government talks to discuss holding a family reunion timed around the Chuseok holiday on Sept. 8, as well as other pending issues.
The Unification Ministry declined to say if Seoul will consider easing the economic sanctions imposed since North Korea’s attack on the Cheonan naval ship in 2010 or resuming the Mount Kumgang tourism program, which Pyongyang has repeatedly demanded as a condition for a breakthrough in inter-Korean ties. But the ministry didn’t exclude any issues in the new talks. The tone raises hopes that Seoul may consider departing from the hawkish stance maintained since the Lee Myung-bak administration that no economic cooperation or aid are possible unless Pyongyang admits and sincerely apologizes for the deadly attack in 2010.
We welcome the overture from Seoul to break the ice with Pyongyang. Dialogue is the only way to end the wasteful stalemate and tension in the inter-Korean relationship and change course toward cooperation and reconciliation. South Korea has been the odd one out while global powers have been making developments with North Korea. North Korea’s reliance on China has intensified since inter-Korean ties were severed with the 2010 sanctions. Due to halt in inter-Korean trade, China now accounts for 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade. Japan and North Korea have also made strides after Pyongyang agreed to reopen probes for kidnapped Japanese in return for eased sanctions.
The timing for dialogue cannot be better. President Park Geun-hye is scheduled to mark the Aug. 15 Independence Day. Chairing the first Presidential Committee on Unification Preparation last week, she said that South Korea envisions a peaceful framework and wants to recognize North Korea as a dialogue partner to work toward peace.
The proposed high-level talks, however, fall on the same day of the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, a joint South Korea-U.S. military drill that Pyongyang protests. But inter-Korean talks have taken place against the backdrop of Korea-U.S. military exercises before. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must prove his sincerity for better ties. The president also should articulate a strong message to Pyongyang to make a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations in her Independence Day address.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 12, Page 30