North Korea on Wednesday proposed hosting a joint event to commemorate the 2000 inter-Korean summit in what Seoul officials regard as the latest peace offensive to divide the government and civilian sector in the South.
The South Side Committee for Implementing the June 15 Joint Declaration said Thursday it has received a fax from its North Korean counterpart, which suggested the celebration take place in the border city of Gaeseong or Mount Geumgangsan.
“The only way out to recover inter-Korean relations and open a new phase of independent reunification lies in implementing the joint declaration,” the message reads.
The landmark agreement was adopted between the late leaders, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il. It calls for efforts for independent unification, reunions of separated families, economic, cultural and social cooperation and government-level dialogue.
The two Koreas held joint annual celebrations in Mount Geumgangsan from 2001 until a South Korean tourist was shot to death by a North Korean soldier in July 2008. A series of provocations ensued, prompting then President Lee Myung-bak to harden his stance and crippling other inter-Korean programs.
With the Gaeseong industrial park at a standstill, Pyongyang’s proposal indicates its willingness to reactivate the signature joint project, said Jung Hyun-gon, co-head of the South Side Committee.
But the overture may pose a dilemma for Seoul, which criticized the communist neighbor for attempting to drive a wedge between Seoul authorities and private and civilian groups by contacting directly companies or civic organizations chiefly via fax while dismissing formal calls for talks.
The Unification Ministry has been constantly urging dialogue for the resumption of the factory complex, stressing the government’s predominant role in resolving the dispute.
“We will decide after comprehensively examining past joint events and possible ripple effects because there should not be any unnecessary controversy under the current cross-border situation,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
The proposal also comes as the bellicose state steps up diplomatic efforts to defuse regional tension escalated by its recent missile and atomic tests and nuclear threats on South Korea and the U.S.
Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People’s Army, is in Beijing as special envoy of leader Kim Jong-un.
One of the young ruler’s closest confidants, Choe is expected to visit Chinese President Xi Jinping and perhaps deliver him Kim’s letter. A day earlier he met with Wang Jiarui, head of the international department of China’s Communist Party who traveled to Pyongyang and spoke with Kim last August.
Choe’s unexpected trip appears to reflect the isolated regime’s resolve to put back on track ties with its sole major political and economic backer.
The bilateral relationship has been on ice since Beijing joined in imposing the U.N.’s toughest punishment against its impoverished ally in March and advised some of its banks to sever transactions with North Korean entities in compliance of sanctions.
Analysts said Kim appeared to have been jolted by China’s unusually stringent stance and reinforced cooperation with archrival U.S. for the denuclearization of the peninsula.
Xi is scheduled to hold the first summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on June 7 in California and with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye later that month in Beijing.
“China did notify us in advance of the visit,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell told a news briefing on Wednesday. “You do know that the U.S. and China ― that we’re of the same view that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is essential if we’re to move forward in any diplomatic process with North Korea.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com