Dialogue overdueFive years have passed since the previous government cut all economic ties with North Korea with the May 24 sanctions. Even the ruling party has called for lifting the sanctions, but the government maintains that Pyongyang must first apologize for its deadly attacks in 2010 - torpedoing the warship Cheonan that killed 46 sailors and artillery fire against an inhabited island.
North Korea remains as provocative as ever - test-firing ballistic missiles from a submarine launcher. But we cannot stay cut off from North Korea forever. Moreover, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Japanese colonial rule, which could provide momentum for the two Koreas to celebrate together and work toward common goals.
Although the government of President Park Geun-hye has been advised that this year is a golden moment to mend ties and push ahead with a North Korean agenda, the year is already half gone. Park had been aggressive on the North Korean front, announcing a so-called “trustpolitik” vision for lasting peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and a Eurasia Initiative. But these initiatives may remain nothing more than rhetoric if they can not get past the stumbling block of the May 24 sanctions. Seoul tried for a breakthrough by allowing partial civilian cooperation, such as the Rajin and Khasan railway project. But without official lifting of the May 24 sanctions, there is a limit to any further development of inter-Korean ties. It all depends on the will of the government.
North Korea also has been hit by the five-year hiatus in inter-Korean ties. Direct losses amount to $300 million, not counting the indirect costs resulting from diplomatic isolation. Pyongyang should have learned there is a price to pay for its military provocations. There is no reason why Seoul should cling to the sanctions.
Pyongyang also has to take steps to meet us halfway. Seoul cannot remove the sanctions without receiving from Pyongyang some kind of explanation regarding past attacks and casualties. It must persuade South Koreans and the international community of its commitment to peace. It should agree to high-level talks to solve various issues, including the sanctions, within the context of a dialogue. Dialogue is the only way to find a breakthrough in the bottleneck of inter-Korean ties.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 25, Page 22