Published : 2013-09-22 20:43
Updated : 2013-09-22 20:43
However abrupt and absurd they might seem, all North Korean moves have had their own calculated ulterior motives. But whatever the motive, Pyongyang’s unilateral postponement of the planned reunions for families separated across the inter-Korean border for the past six decades will bring nothing to the regime. The move, which came last Saturday, just four days before the latest round of family reunions was to start, will only make it harder or impossible for the North to gain what it might have intended to draw from the South.
The two Koreas had been preparing for the event set to be held at the Mount Geumgangsan resort on the North’s eastern coast from Sept. 25-30, having already exchanged the final lists of 196 families from both sides to be reunited with their long-lost relatives. Among the heartbreaking scenes was to be an encounter between a 95-year-old woman from the South and her sister, 80, from the North.
As condemned by a spokesman of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, the unilateral delay of family reunions more than deserved denunciation as an “inhumane act.”
The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said in a statement it was putting off the event until “a normal atmosphere is created” for the two sides to hold dialogue and negotiations. Pyongyang also postponed the planned talks with Seoul on the resumption of the Mount Geumgangsan tour program that has been suspended since the shooting dead of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard at the resort in 2008.
The statement said the North would not overlook what it called the South’s suppression of “pro-reunification patriots,” apparently referring to a left-wing lawmaker and his associates who were recently arrested on charges of plotting an insurgency against the state. It is what the South Korean government has to do to preempt any internal threat to the country’s free and democratic system. And the crackdown on the antistate conspiracy cannot be a pretext for aborting the purely humanitarian event. Pyongyang should refrain from politicizing the reunion issue and allow separated families, many of whom are in their 80s and older, to get together.
North Korea may have wanted to push South Korea to be more active on the matter of resuming tours to the mountain resort, which used to bring it a large amount of cash. While agreeing with Pyongyang to reopen a joint industrial complex in a North Korean border town, Seoul remains cautious on reviving the tour program. By fiddling about with a humanitarian issue, however, the North has only exacerbated the public sentiment in the South against further going ahead with inter-Korean projects.
It has yet to be seen whether Pyongyang will swing into a mode of confrontation and more serious provocations. Pyongyang’s latest move, however, indicates it will be far more difficult than previously conceived by Seoul to tame the North into being a sensible partner to deal with.