Revitalizing the momentum
South and North Korea have agreed to discuss ways to improve frosty inter-Korean ties at a vice minister-level meeting, set for Dec. 11 at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, one of the last remaining symbols of cooperation between the two. Working-level officials reached a consensus Thursday after 11 hours of talks.
We appreciate the agreement. Both sides hammered it out without much difficulty despite somewhat of a pessimistic outlook at the start. And North and South Korea appear to have demonstrated flexibility so as not to dash hopes for this dialogue.
On Aug. 25, the two Koreas agreed to hold high-level talks as soon as possible in either Seoul or Pyongyang aimed at improving bilateral relations in an effort to ease tensions after the North planted landmines along the border, which maimed two of our soldiers on patrol early in August.
The latest working-level agreement to hold vice ministerial-level talks - not ministerial or higher level - in Kaesong, rather than Seoul or Pyongyang, stops way short of our expectations. Both sides also set their agendas in an opaque manner, as evidenced in their descriptions - “pending issues between two sides” - with the exception of an agreement to hold another round of working-level talks after upgrading them to the vice ministerial-level.
Nevertheless, you can’t make bricks without straw. Both sides must demonstrate a maximum level of sincerity so that vice ministerial-level talks can bear fruit. It is time to shun this narrow-minded approach bent on fighting over protocol details. Given the sharp disparity in both sides’ posts in their respective governments, it is ludicrous to find fault with officials’ levels.
In terms of an agenda, both sides must have forward-looking attitudes so that they can put all they possibly can on the table. Thinking outside the box is necessary. For instance, Seoul can propose that reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War be regularized in return for the resumption of tourism to Mount Kumgang, which Pyongyang so desperately wants. The two Koreas must do their best to transform the vice ministerial-level meeting into regular meetings between higher-level officials, alternately in Seoul and Pyongyang.
Amid a critical lack of trust between both sides, dialogues have their own limits. Even though the agreement on Thursday may look unsatisfactory, we must build up trust with each other step by step. Above all, both sides must do their best to keep the momentum for dialogue building.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 28, page 34