Respond positively to Pyongyang

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Respond positively to Pyongyang

North Korea on Monday issued a rare government statement to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the joint declaration for co-prosperity following the first-ever inter-Korean summit talks in 2000. The last government statement Pyongyang issued was in July last year, offering to send a cheerleading squad to the Asian Games in Incheon. While blaming Seoul for strained ties, the statement did not use the usual violent rhetoric. Just a few days ago, its state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmum lampooned South Korea’s botched handling of the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, claiming the crisis underscores impotence and inhumane governance of the incumbent Park Geun-hye administration.

The statement itself carried nothing new. Pyongyang indicated it could resume dialogue if Seoul ceases its regular joint military drills with Washington. It also continued its usual contradictory facade, exhibiting and test-firing a new anti-ship rocket one day and the following day issuing a reconciliatory statement. It may have wanted to secure a favorable position in the contest of tensions with Seoul ahead of the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Japanese colonial rule and founding of the Workers’ Party and to serve a propagandist purpose for its leader Kim Jong-un.

But the formalities should not matter as we are already very accustomed to Pyongyang’s ways. North Korea said the two Koreas need a transitional point, suggesting it also feels the necessity of inter-Korean dialogue. In another reconciliatory gesture, it also said it would return two South Korean detainees.

Seoul should respond positively to Pyongyang’s offer. If it cannot lift the economic sanctions it has been enforcing since North Korea’s deadly attacks in 2010 immediately, Seoul can hold negotiations with other bargaining cards like restraint on the spread of anti-North Korean propaganda leaflets and permit inter-Korean exchanges. It could also scale down the annual Korea-U.S. Ulchi military drills in August. What is important is to keep the dialogue channel alive. Seoul should not shoot down this opportunity.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 16, Page 30

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