End the vicious cycle

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End the vicious cycle

High-level talks between South and North Korea resumed Sunday afternoon at the truce village of Panmunjom after a 10-hour marathon meeting a day earlier to help ease the highly explosive situation triggered by the detonation of land mines planted by North Korean soldiers along the tense western border. Considering the North Korean military’s suspicious movements, however, we must not relax. Even at the height of the high-level talks, scores of North Korean submarines disappeared from our radars, with its artillery batteries reinforcing their readiness to open fire on the South again. The level of military tension is still rising.

Regardless, top-level officials from Seoul and Pyongyang are trying to find a breakthrough in the tense confrontation. We welcome the high-level meeting, as it carries great significance. The fact that North Korea proposed the talks signals that it does not want a worst-case scenario that may lead to a common annihilation of the two Koreas on the peninsula. Despite an earlier threat to attack the South unless we stop the loudspeaker propaganda campaign by 5 p.m. Saturday, the North stopped short of military provocation. That proves that only our unshakable determination to fight back can deter the North from engaging in military provocations. Although the crisis is far from over, the Park Geun-hye government’s stern reaction to the North’s threat deserves our praise.

Even though North Korea must take responsibility for the crisis, its leadership’s decision deserves some credit. Despite the possibility of the 30-something first chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong-un, resorting to military adventurism, he sent Hwang Pyong-so, director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau, and Kim Yang-gon, director of the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party, as the tension rose. That looks like rational judgment.

Despite a glimmer of hope, though, we must take this into account. The government must end the vicious cycle of provocation, denial, appeasement gestures and economic aid on which the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang has been relying for decades. Therefore, the North must apologize for the land mine provocation and promise to punish those responsible for the fatal maneuver.

If Pyongyang accepts the two conditions, we also need to demonstrate flexibility. The Koreas are at a crossroads between common destruction and peaceful coexistence for a prosperous future. Both sides must handle the volatile situation wisely and move toward dialogue and negotiation.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 24, Page 30

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