Talks have just begunHigh-level inter-Korean talks over Friday and Saturday came to an abrupt end before officials could even agree on a date to meet next. Neither side could come to an agreement: The North, as expected, insisted on resuming the suspended tourism program on Mount Kumgang, while the South placed priority on regularizing reunions for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.
North Korea must take more responsibility for the sudden halt of the vice-ministerial meeting. South Korea has rightly demanded that North Korea apologize for the death in 2008 of a South Korean tourist who was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier at the Mount Kumgang resort, as well as for its hand in the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010, which killed 46 sailors.
But North Korea insisted on inserting a clause stating that both sides had “agreed to the resumption of tourism on Mount Kumgang” into a joint communique following the meeting.
A responsible government would not risk its citizens’ lives for such a tour program under such precarious conditions - no matter how attractive it is. The North’s insistence on the resumption of the tourism program in the absence of any apology or explanation testifies to Pyongyang’s relentless pursuit of hard currency, irrespective of its counterpart’s righteous demands. We cannot but attribute it to the North’s intention to show off a substantial economic gain from the meeting at the North’s Workers’ Party convention slated for May 2016.
Nevertheless, inter-Korean dialogue must continue. Some North Korea experts underscore the North’s uncertainties by linking the rupture of the high-level meeting to Pyongyang’s abrupt decision to cancel its Moranbong Band’s performance in Beijing. But such theories go too far. We must not be shaken by the North’s idiosyncratic unpredictability. We must allow them to realize that we can make concessions at meetings, so long as it demonstrates sincerity.
But at the same time, we need to have a more flexible approach. Our government stressed that it can hold working-level talks to discuss the regularization of family reunions, as well as the resumption of tourism on Mount Kumgang, so both sides can reach a consensus. Our government must demonstrate wisdom and composure when it comes to talks with the North. We can take it one step forward by building a stepping stone for the improvement of inter-Korean relations through that kind of approach.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 15, Page 34