Sounds like an excuseHigh-level talks between South and North Korea were not held today despite Seoul’s invitation to Pyongyang. The North said it could not take part in such a meeting due to our civic groups’ sending of propaganda leaflets via balloons over the border. As a result, the prospect for the second round of high-level talks for the Park Geun-hye administration, which were hoped for at the end of October or early November, became dim. If North Korea continues to find fault with pro-democracy groups sending leaflets across the border, we cannot rule out the possibility that no form of inter-Korean contact may take place for a while.
In a telephone communique issued by the mighty National Defense Commission yesterday, North Korea made it clear that the suspension of the leaflet distribution is a precondition for high-level talks, saying, “It is totally up to the South whether it wants to open the talks or continue to allow civic groups to send the leaflets to North Korea.”
Pyongyang has put the blame on Seoul by claiming that our government’s position to not block the groups, citing a lack of legal grounds to do so, shows that Seoul has no intention to create an atmosphere for dialogue. Responding to the message, the government expressed its regrets by saying that even though it wants to resolve bilateral issues through dialogue, it cannot accommodate the North’s unreasonable demand.
North Korea has opposed the sending of the leaflets to the extent that it has opened fire at the balloons in midair. As a result, conflict has sprung up between civic groups and residents of border towns who don’t want conflict to break out in their own neighborhood. We made it clear that those groups should restrain themselves in consideration of the bigger picture of South-North relations.
Yet our government cannot restrict their freedom of speech because we are a free, democratic society. The issue should be settled through dialogue and persuasion. North Korea is well aware of the differences in our systems. Its effort to link the leaflets’ distribution to high-level talks raises the strong suspicion that it doesn’t really want dialogue right now.
The two governments agreed to resume talks as they felt a common need for dialogue. Pyongyang must not persist with its preposterous demands. At the same time, our government should beef up efforts to persuade civic groups to refrain from provoking the North. Missing a precious chance for dialogue due to a brawl over leaflets is pointless. We hope saner views prevail.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 30, Page 34