Hopes pinned on a visit

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Hopes pinned on a visit

Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, visits Pyongyang from August 5 to 8. Her visit to North Korea takes place amid frozen ties between the two Koreas, hardly thawed since the start of the hard-line Park Geun-hye administration in 2013. Her trip follows an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year. Her visit carries great significance given the possibility of a meeting with Kim.

Lee’s visit takes place ten days before Aug. 15, the date of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule. The Park government tried to hold a joint event for both Koreas to celebrate our independence on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation this year. But South-North tensions have only grown this year. A proposed event to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the June 15, 2000 South-North Joint Declaration between President Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang went off track after the North’s test-firing in May of a Submarine-launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) and the opening of a UN office in Seoul to monitor the North’s human rights abuses and Seoul’s unilateral sanctions on the North.

The possibility of a joint ceremony to celebrate the 70th anniversary of our liberation from Japan’s rule remains slim with Northeast Asia unstable due to deepening friction between China’s expansionism and the solid anti-Beijing alliance between the United States and Japan. Lee’s trip to Pyongyang against such a backdrop offers a rare opportunity to break the ice within inter-Korean relations.

However, considering the former first lady’s advanced age - she is 92 - and her political affiliation with the liberal president Kim, Seoul and Pyongyang need to have a forward-looking attitude for the future. Above all, our government needs to devise practical ways that lead to a summit. Our government must also ease Pyongyang’s concerns about an absorbed unification by assuring it that our intention is merely dialogue and cooperation - for instance, by convincing Pyongyang of our intention to lift the May 24, 2010 sanctions if it accepts our proposal for dialogue. The government could propose the development of special economic zones in the North, including Mount Kumgang, in return for the construction of a peace park around the DMZ and a reunion of separated families.

The government can deliver such messages to Pyongyang through Lee. President Park has repeatedly demonstrated her will to improve relations and approved Lee’s visit. The deadlocked South-North ties could find a breakthrough.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 8, Page 30
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