Pyongyang must prove us wrong

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Pyongyang must prove us wrong

It is refreshing to hear expressions of will toward improving inter-Korean ties from senior North Korean officials following Tuesday’s landmark deal to end the confrontation and pave the way for dialogue. This show of commitment raises new hopes for inter-Korean ties that have been in deadlock since the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan warship.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday hailed the accord that came after rare uninterrupted four-day talks as a “landmark occasion” that could put the “catastrophic inter-Korea relations on the track of reconciliation and trust” during a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the North’s Workers’ Party. His statement sounded more like one from Seoul than from Pyongyang, which usually uses unambiguously violent language toward the South. Earlier Hwang Pyong-so, the chief negotiator from Pyongyang, expressed commitment to improving ties with South. On Thursday, Kim Yang-gon, Pyongyang’s top official on inter-Korean ties who was also at the talks, told the North Korean Central News Agency the North “will work actively to improve inter-Korean ties in line with the aim and wishes of our people.”

Pyongyang’s sudden change of tone and attitude reflects the urgent need to improve inter-Korean ties for political, social and economic stability. Despite its efforts, North Korea’s attempts to deal with Washington and Tokyo have been fruitless. Its relationship with Beijing has also soured since the young leader succeeded to power. South Korea remains its only option for economic relief.

North Korea has been rather consistent in showing a will to mend ties with South Korea. Kim implied summit talks were possible during this year’s New Year’s address, and the top officials unexpectedly turned up at the closing ceremony of the Asian Games last October.

The two Koreas have entered a new phase in bilateral relations. We must not waste the momentum. We must not only strengthen ties but forge a lasting, permanent peace. While maintaining that Pyongyang should first apologize for the deadly attack in 2010, Seoul could consider reviving economic cooperation, infrastructure projects and humanitarian aid without a comprehensive lifting of economic sanctions.

Regardless of the renewed reconciliatory mood, we must not let our guard down on our military front. It wouldn’t be surprising if North Korea was staging reconciliation ahead of provocation for the anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party in October. North Korea must prove us wrong.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 29, Page 26

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