Seoul moves to break impasse in inter-Korean relations

By Korea Herald

Experts call for more active, flexible approach toward Pyongyang

  • Published : Nov 3, 2013 - 19:39
  • Updated : Nov 3, 2013 - 19:39
Seoul is seen moving to break the impasse in the inter-Korean relationship with various options in mind, including a bilateral summit and the lifting of its ban on economic exchanges with Pyongyang.

Its prolonged stalemate with the communist state has begun to raise questions over the efficacy of President Park Geun-hye’s “peninsular trust-building process,” a dialogue-based initiative to enhance ties with the North based on robust deterrence.

In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro published Saturday, Park said she would be willing to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at any time, should the talks be for better inter-Korean ties and peninsular peace.

But she stressed “sincerity” on the part of the North, reiterating she did not want talks for the sake of it.

Until May, Park appeared negative over the summit with the young leader of the North. She said during an interview with the Washington Post that month, “What kind of effect would the summit have right now?”

Her remarks on the summit came just a day after Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said during a parliamentary audit of the administration that the government was exploring various options apparently including the lifting of the so-called May 24 measures.

After the North torpedoed the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March 2010, the South imposed the measures that banned any government-level economic cooperation and exchanges with the North.

The ban and suspension of the tours to Mount Geumgang and Gaeseong have dealt a considerable financial blow to the increasingly isolated regime in Pyongyang. The North has repeatedly called on the South to stop the ban and resume the tours.

Experts argued that Seoul should take a more active approach to rev up its trust-building initiative and thaw the frosty relations with Pyongyang.

“To forge a breakthrough in the current stalemate, Seoul needs to take a more flexible, active approach on the issues such as the resumption of the long-stalled tour program and the gradual lifting of the May 24 measures,” said Kim Yong-hyun, North Korea expert at Dongguk University.

Hopes for improved relations were dashed again in September when Pyongyang unilaterally canceled the bilateral agreement to hold the first reunions of separated families in three years.

A Seoul official said that the two Koreas could begin unraveling the string of bilateral issues with the resumption of family reunions.

“As the failure to hold the reunions has strained relations, the resumption of the reunions should be the starting point to thaw the ties,” the official said, declining to be named. “In November, before it gets too cold, we can hold the reunions.”

Some critics argue that eight months after her inauguration, Park’s North Korea policy has yet to yield any visible progress in the North’s denuclearization and create any momentum for inter-Korean reconciliation.

Pyongyang appears to have recently restarted its nuclear facilities to produce weapons-grade plutonium and restated that it would stick to its policy of concurrently pursuing economic development and nuclear armament.

There has recently been a flurry of diplomatic consultations over whether to resume the multilateral denuclearization talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. But the participating members still remain poles apart over the conditions for the restart of the dialogue.

With little progress in President Park’s trust-building efforts, even some lawmakers from the ruling Saenuri Party called for more effective measures to mend fences with the North.

“There is nothing explicitly different from the former Lee Myung-bak government’s North Korea policy. There should be some efforts (to reverse the current course),” Rep. Shim Yoon-joe said during a parliamentary audit last Friday.

Saenuri Rep. Kim Young-woo said that bound by the May 24 measures, it would be difficult for the government to take even one step further with its trust-building efforts.

By Song Sang-ho (