More civilian exchanges necessary

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More civilian exchanges necessary

The government endorsed a request for an inter-Korean meeting in China in preparation for a joint ceremony commemorating the 15th anniversary of the June 15 Declaration, adopted after the first-ever inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in 2000. If the event takes place as planned, it will be the first time the two Koreas have jointly celebrated the landmark declaration in 7 years. Inter-Korean relations stalled following the Cheonan warship sinking and the subsequent “May 24” sanctions in 2010.

Separately, the government has allowed 92-year-old Lee Hee-ho, the widow of the late President Kim Dae-jung, to visit North Korea later this year. Last month, the Unification Ministry approved a charity foundation’s offer to send 15 tons of fertilizers and volunteers to North Korea. Early this month, a local government was allowed to carry out cultural exchanges with the North.

Breakthroughs in inter-Korean relations hinge on the will and attitude of the leaders. This year offers the best opportunity to improve the relationship between the two Koreas by jointly celebrating the 70th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule. For President Park Geun-hye - in the third year of her five-year tenure - it is the best and possibly last opportunity to turn the tide in the inter-Korean relationship. Civilian-level exchanges should develop into official and high-level talks to sustain momentum.

Circumstances in the North have turned unfavorably. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who was expected to make his debut on the international stage by attending Russia’s 70th Victory Day celebration, cancelled his trip. Fears of North Korea’s long-range missile rose after Kim visited the newly established General Satellite Control and Command. We need to reach out before North Korea withdraws further into its shell again.

A reconciliatory mood needs to be promoted by making civilian contact and exchange more and more possible. When the stage is set, the government should offer to lift economic sanctions. Better ties with North Korea also serves us well amid growing pressure from the United States, China, and Japan. We need to be more preemptive and aggressive if we are to change the mood on the Korean Peninsula.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 6, Page 34

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