A two-track policyThe Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) has come up with a groundbreaking initiative following the Iranian nuclear deal on Tuesday, which naturally makes the international community wonder if anything similar could work to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The ideas proposed by the nonprofit organization representing South Korean conglomerates includes the establishment of economic liaison offices in Seoul and Pyongyang. The FKI made the proposal for inter-Korean economic cooperation at a time of frozen ties between South and North Korea and a complete impasse on the nuclear issue. Coincidently, South and North Korea held a joint meeting at the Kaesong Industrial Complex - the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation - to discuss issues.
On Wednesday, the FKI presented five new principles of South-North economic cooperation and seven strategic tasks, ranging from the construction of an industrial park in and around Pyongyang to the nurturing of North Korea’s industrial workforce. The business group took the recent expansion of indigenous markets in the North as an opportunity to step up cooperation.
But the economic exchanges face two major stumbling blocks: the May 24, 2010 sanctions in reaction to the North’s attack on the Cheonan warship and the North’s nuclear weapons program. The sanctions can be addressed depending on the North’s attitude - Seoul already said they could be discussed if Pyongyang returns to the negotiating table - but the nuclear issue is entirely different. The Kim Jong-un regime flatly dismisses the possibility of giving up its nuclear weapons. It considers them an insurance policy for its survival. The United States adheres to a no-negotiations stance unless the North denuclearizes.
Lifting the sanctions and resuming economic cooperation against such a backdrop could be perceived as an attempt to offer cash to the North for the development of its nuclear weapons and missiles. Therefore, hard-liners still insist on putting pressure on Pyongyang until it opts to denuclearize or collapses under the weight of nuclear development. That’s wishful thinking.
The lesson of the Iran deal is that nuclear issues cannot be solved overnight. What we need is a two-track approach: resolving the nuclear issue through close cooperation with the international society, while improving ties through more active exchanges. In fact, economic cooperation benefits both sides. The North can rekindle its struggling economy and the South can gain a new growth engine.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, Page 34