The never-ending stalemate

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The never-ending stalemate

President Park Geun-hye’s principles have never been firmer. She did not blink at North Korea’s threats of war. Instead, she told the Korean delegation who met with Pyongyang officials to consider ending the talks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must have felt that if he pushed any harder, he would be pushed off a cliff. So he made his decision at midnight.

The previous day, Park said at a meeting with her senior secretaries that loudspeaker broadcasts at the border would continue unless Pyongyang promised to end military provocations. The director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean Army, Hwang Pyong-so, and Pyongyang’s top official on inter-Korean ties, Kim Yang-gon, must have welcomed the compromise. They requested to adjourn, likely reporting to Pyongyang that Seoul was being stubborn.

But in my opinion, the president’s remarks to the 3rd Corps on the frontline were the best. She allowed the Armed Forces to “respond first and report later” in case of further provocations, acknowledging their judgment. The message was as powerful as it could be. The president’s orders heightened the morale of Korea’s troops at the most opportune moment.

The Blue House’s “restroom negotiation” order also deserves compliments. Because inter-Korean negotiations were broadcast live to Seoul and Pyongyang, the delegates could not say all they wanted, so the Blue House allowed them to have more candid discussions off-camera. There were about 10 discussions on the sidelines in the restroom as well as in other areas.

The North Korean delegation firmly denied its involvement in planting the land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers but later changed its position, agreeing not to repeat such aggressions.

It was the beginning of a dramatic resolution.

It was also wise to conclude the talks there. It is foolish to criticize the fact that Pyongyang did not issue a real apology or promise not to repeat violent provocations. Does anyone really expect North Korea to kneel and apologize? If they want to act again, a promise would matter little. It is too much and too meaningless to ask. Pride is all Pyongyang has, and it has made enough concessions.

While inter-Korean confrontation may end in victory or defeat, there is no winning or losing in inter-Korean relations. It is either win-win or lose-lose. While a draw may be the most disappointing result in sports, it is the best outcome in inter-Korean relations. When one side wins or loses, the relationship cannot continue. We seek a relationship, not a confrontation. A win-win relationship is the starting point and the destination.

It is also inappropriate to hastily anticipate improved relations. We have only settled the crisis for now, and we need to work on making an opportunity out of it. Resuming tourism on Mount Kumgang and lifting the May 24 sanctions are not natural consequences in official meetings. They hinge on North Korea’s attitude, and celebrating before we even sit down at the negotiation table only compromises South Korea’s edge.

All in all, the Korean president did a good job, and we gladly applaud. But there is one thing that remains regrettable. She failed to seize the opportunity to embrace domestic politics. The Aug. 25 agreement was made possible by the cooperation of the opposition party, which fully supported government negotiations. So it would have been considerate to inform the opposition leader of any progress in the talks.

It is important to share information with the opposition party and hear its opinion. That is what happened in Germany before reunification. All information was shared with the opposition party, and the opposition was proud that it was trusted with maintaining state secrets. As an administrative partner, the opposition was trusted. After the situation concluded, the unification minister provided an explanation to the opposition party, but the scope of the drama is different. If the president had called the opposition leader even once during the four-day negotiation, it would have been the president who gained in the end.

But it’s not too late yet. Immediate reform cannot be accomplished by the president alone. It cannot be achieved on principles alone. Countless interested parties must be persuaded. Cooperation from the opposition party is not an option but a requirement. That is why the president has to reach out first.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 29, Page 26

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hoon-beom

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