North irked by forestry discussion

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North irked by forestry discussion

Talks between South and North Korea on Monday on forestry issues disappointed the delegation from Pyongyang, which was blunt about its disgruntlement, particularly Seoul’s attitude toward international sanctions.

Forestry officials from the two Koreas held discussions at a new joint liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong on Monday, the first to be held in the building.

They were supposed to discuss ways to implement an agreement reached by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a summit in Pyongyang last month.

But little could be agreed on because of international sanctions, which prohibit the transfer of economic assets to the North.

“We cannot say the discussions made enough progress to satisfy our nation’s wishes,” said the North’s top delegate, Kim Song-jun, in an aggrieved tone at the end of the meeting.

“If [future talks] proceed the way these have, we will no longer hold any expectations for discussions of forestry cooperation proposed by the South.”

According to a press release, the South and North agreed to pursue joint efforts to control pine tree pests, modernize the North’s sapling farms and hold a joint panel debate to look for ways the two countries could preserve and restore the peninsula’s natural environment.

Most of the discussions involved the South supplying the North with chemicals necessary to control pine tree pests as well as certain greenhouse materials used to nurse saplings, and no promises were made.

Such a vague outcome irked the North Koreans, who expected rapid progress in inter-Korean cooperation as a result of Moon’s visit last month.

Deforestation is a major problem in North Korea, where much of the landscape is barren of woodlands and vegetation due to long-term logging, which intensified after the economic collapse in the 1990s.

North Korean Economy Watch, an online blog run by researchers at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, wrote this August that over 400 new tree farms and forest management stations have been identified through satellite footage since Kim Jong-un’s ascension to power in 2011.

According to a state propaganda booklet recently obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo, Kim ordered that a “battle” be fought to restore the country’s forests during his visit to a sapling farm in Pyongyang in Nov. 2014, using language North Korea regularly reserves for major projects. He reiterated that message at a high-level party meeting in Feb. 2015, where he laid out an objective to “transform all mountains into gold and treasures within a decade.”

Such urgency - to restore the country’s forests by 2025 - could explain why the North’s forestry officials on Monday were so impatient to receive substantial help from the South. Another indication of Pyongyang’s disappointment was the fact that its state press reported on the forestry talks on Tuesday with no mention of their results.

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