North Korea has agreed to arrange a new round of unions of families separated by the division of the two Koreas. It is apparently part of concerted peace offensive by the North toward South Korea. Yet, it is welcome, in view of the plight and suffering of the people who have not seen their families and relatives for decades.
The North Korean Red Cross proposed Friday that the reunions be held after Lunar New Year’s Day at the Mount Geumgangsan resort. The North had rejected President Park Geun-hye’s earlier proposal to arrange family reunions. Pyongyang at that time insisted that the time was not yet ripe, citing the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises.
The North’s proposal came hours after the Pyongyang government renewed its latest peace overture. Its official media reported that in a public letter addressed to South Korean political parties and social organizations, the National Defense Commission reiterated its position on peace dialogue with the South.
The N.K. commission’s letter repeated the suggestion it had made on Jan. 16. Calling it a “crucial” proposal, the North suggested the two Koreas stop slander, military hostilities and work out measures to prevent a “nuclear catastrophe.”
In Friday’s letter, the North Korean defense commission said that its proposal was neither a disguised peace overture nor a tactic aimed at creating an excuse for a new provocation. North Korea’s top envoy to the United Nations reiterated the position in a news conference in New York, calling on South Korea to take its proposal seriously and respond in a positive manner.
Ambassador Sin Son-ho at the same time demanded Seoul and Washington call off their joint military exercise. He also warned of possible “havoc” from military tensions on the peninsula.
“We remind them once again that even minor and accidental conflict can immediately lead to an all-out war,” he said.
It is not uncommon for North Korean officials to breach common sense and norms, but it is dismaying that the North Korean diplomat repeated the same threats of war even in a news conference through which he wanted to call international attention to his government’s peace proposal and urge the South to accept it.
That alone shows that we should remain watchful over the North’s latest peace offensive. We stress this because history shows the North can turn extremely hostile whenever it feels like it. What is clear is that the North should produce actions, not words, should it want to make peace on the peninsula.
Needless to say, genuine peace on the peninsula could not be achieved without removing the North’s military threat, including its nuclear weapons.
Our rightful suspicion of the North’s motives behind the recent overtures aside, let us hope that this time, the North will not betray the separated families’ aspirations. It is painful to remember that, just last September, the North unilaterally called off planned family reunions, only four days before the participants were to travel to Mount Geumgangsan.