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Park looks to era of reunification

President proposes cross-border family reunions, calls on Japan to adopt 'correct' historical stance

President Park Geun-hye answers a reporter’s question during a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)
President Park Geun-hye answers a reporter’s question during a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)

President Park Geun-hye on Monday proposed holding cross-border reunions for separated families in time for Lunar New Year’s Day later this month, expressing hope for fresh momentum to enhance inter-Korean ties.

During her first press conference that focused on economic revitalization, social reform and security, Park vowed to begin preparations for reunification, which she called the “jackpot” to help Korea’s economy take another leap.

The president also unveiled a three-year plan to reinvigorate the economy by eliminating abnormal practices in the private and public sectors, balancing domestic consumption and exports, reforming industrial regulations and through other measures.

“(I) hope that separated families, who have waited for 60 years, can be reunited in time for this Lunar New Year’s Day (Jan. 31), and that the elderly can heal the scars in their minds,” Park said during the 80-minute news conference.

“I wish that the North could get off on the right foot (with the South) through the reunions and forge a chance to build a fresh framework of dialogue for (better) inter-Korean ties.”

Later in the day, Seoul proposed to Pyongyang that the two sides hold a working-level meeting to arrange the reunions on Friday in Tongilgak, a building on the North Korean side of the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom.

The two Koreas last year agreed to hold the first reunions in three years after Korean Thanksgiving in September. But Pyongyang abruptly canceled them amid strained relations.

Her proposal for the reunions came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made calls for improved inter-Korean ties in his New Year’s address.

Park said she welcomed the North’s peace gestures, but stressed that what matters was “sincere action” rather than words. The president also said she was willing to meet Kim at any time for peninsular peace, but reiterated that she would not hold any talks for talks’ sake.

Dismissing negative opinions about the high cost of reunification, Park highlighted the economic benefits.

“Some ask the question of whether we really need reunification. I would say it is like hitting the jackpot. I believe peninsular reunification would be a chance for our economy to take another great leap,” she said.

“For Korea to move up to another level internationally ― away from inter-Korean conflicts, war threats and nuclear threats ― we should open the era of peninsular reunification and we should start preparing for that.”

The “core barrier” to preparations for reunification is North Korea’s nuclear program, Park added, stressing that Seoul would not tolerate Pyongyang’s nuclear development that threatens not only peninsular peace but also world peace.

To lay the foundation for reunification, Park said that the South would continue to strengthen its security posture; expand humanitarian assistance and civilian exchanges with North Korean people and secure international support for reunification.

Asked if her government is preparing for any particular scenarios of instability in North Korea, the president said the government would try to make itself fully ready for any possible situation.

“As we watched the execution of Jang Song-thaek (the uncle of the North Korean leader) last year, I think we and the people in the world once again feel the reality of the North,” she said. “No one in the world can say, for sure, what would happen in the North or how the North would behave.”

Announcing the three-year economic plan, she repeated her mantra of opening the “era of people’s happiness” through economic innovation.

She, particularly, stressed her initiative to “normalize the abnormal” in Korea’s society. The abnormal includes deep-rooted corruptive and irregular practices in the public and private sectors. She also renewed her vow to reform poorly-managed, debt-ridden public corporations.

“So far, there were too many abnormalities that have long been accumulated in our society. We will rectify them and normalize public organizations, which would help strengthen the foundation of the economy,” she said.

During the press meeting, Park urged Japan to have the right understanding of history, which she said was the basic foundation of bilateral trust.

While leaving open the possibility of a summit with Japan, she underscored that enough preparations should be made for any summit to yield meaningful outcomes to enhance the strained relations. Amid historical and territorial conflicts, Park and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have yet to hold a summit.

“I think Japan is a crucial neighbor to maintain peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia,” she said, alluding to the need for security cooperation against North Korea’s nuclear threats.

“(Seoul) has stressed that Japan needs to show a sincere attitude as to the right historical perception, which would be a foundation upon which mutual trust can be built.”

As to the relationship between Korea and China, Park said that the two countries have built closer cooperative relations than any other time, expressing hope that their bilateral strategic partnership would continue to contribute to regional peace and stability.

Regarding the constitutional revision for a four-year, two-term presidency, Park remained reluctant, saying that her government would prioritize economic revitalization rather than pushing for the amendment, which would trigger much political debate.

Key points of Park’s press conference:

• Proposes reunions of separated families

• Vows to prepare for peninsular reunification

• Unveils three-year economic innovation plan

• Urges Japan to have right historical perception

• Dismisses criticism over her lack of communication with the public

• Remains negative over constitutional revision

By Song Sang-ho (