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Seoul doubts N.K.’s peace gestures

Seoul doubts N.K.’s peace gestures

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Published : 2014-01-03 20:45
Updated : 2014-01-03 20:45

Seoul on Friday reined in the rising optimism for improved inter-Korean relations, responding with skepticism to Pyongyang’s sincerity in its conciliatory gestures made in its leader’s New Year’s address.

It stressed that peace and reconciliation did not come with only a few words, and that the North should first make sincere efforts to accumulate trust with the South and denuclearize itself.

“Last year, the North also argued that the South should push aside a confrontational policy and take a path for reconciliation, unity and reunification,” said Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokesperson Kim Eui-do in a statement.

“But the North, afterward, conducted a nuclear test, posed military threats, unilaterally suspended the joint industrial complex in Gaeseong and continued smear propaganda campaigns that undermined inter-Korean ties.”

The statement came two days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un read out his New Year’s address, which was aired by the official Korean Central Television.

“The South’s government must avoid waging reckless fratricidal confrontation, make no fuss about pro-North forces, heed the people’s voice calling for an independent, democratic unification, and come forward to improve its relations with the North,” Kim said in the 25-minute speech.

Seoul called Kim’s speech “self-contradictory,” listing a series of provocative moves by Pyongyang that plunged inter-Korean relations to one of their lowest ebbs last year.

“Everyone knows that the North worsened relations and damaged bilateral trust by threatening to turn the South into a sea of flames and criticizing our head of state by name with unspeakable words,” the ministry spokesperson said.

He added that the North’s powerful National Defense Commission had threatened to take “unsparing” retaliatory action against anti-Pyongyang rallies that took place on Dec. 17 to celebrate the second anniversary of the death of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.

Analysts said that Pyongyang would launch a “charm offensive” this year with the aim of shoring up its moribund economy.

For economic rehabilitation, the North should first enhance ties with the outside world, particularly the South, which has imposed a ban on official economic exchanges with the North since 2010 when the North launched two lethal attacks on the South.

“In 2014, Pyongyang may lean toward economic development and reform, and seek to deepen economic exchanges with the outside world, as it has already established itself militarily through nuclear armament,” said Kim Heung-kyu, a professor of politics and diplomacy at Sungshin Women’s University.

“The North would strive to enhance relations with China and Russia and also make conciliatory gestures to Japan and the U.S., while isolating the South. It may make a gesture to the South as well, but its genuine focus will be on ameliorating its own image and keeping the South in check.”

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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