No strings attached
The Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation yesterday proposed a ministerial meeting in January between South and North Korea. It is the first time that the committee, representing the government and the private sector, has played an official role since its establishment early this year. As the committee sent a telephone message in the name of Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae to Kim Yang-kon, the North’s Workers’ Party secretary for inter-Korean issues, Kim received it. Asked why he used the presidential committee as a dialogue channel, Ryoo explained it will help Pyongyang understand the activities of the committee to pursue joint projects - including reunions of separated families - down the road. In a diplomatic stalemate, the government does not have to stick to the formalities of dialogue.
We welcome our government’s proposal before the year ends. Only when both sides find a breakthrough in the tense relations can the government pave the way for inter-Korean cooperation to chart a new path for the Korean Peninsula on the occasion of the 70th anniversaries of our liberation from Japan’s colonial rule and the division of the land. In order to achieve the goal, the government should lift the May 24 sanctions against the North and resume Mount Kumgang tourism. Without lifting or easing sanctions, the government cannot kick off President Park Geun-hye’s ambitious projects like building of a peace park around the DMZ.
The same applies to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint venture park in the North, which is in need of expansion. North Korea is seeking to attract foreign capital after establishing more than 20 special economic zones. Given Pyongyang’s overreliance - nearly 90 percent - on China for its trade, the government must pursue a flexible policy towards the North. We hope the government presents a new blueprint for bilateral relations with the North. A suggestion of a visionary road map rather than an enumeration of detailed plans would be more persuasive. A South-North soccer match or a joint cultural festival could also serve as catalyst for better relations.
Pyongyang must accept Seoul’s offer without strings attached. The South is the North’s only neighbor who can provide substantial aid. A reunion of separated families around Lunar New Year could be a good start. If North Korea resorts to bellicosity again, it can hardly gain the trust of the South. Next year is a good time for both sides to put an end to the decades-old division and march toward a better future.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 30, Page 30