Uncertainty is lingering over whether President Park Geun-hye’s proposals to bolster humanitarian aid to North Korea and bilateral exchanges will lead to a turnaround in the strained ties, given high military tensions and mutual distrust.
After Park’s announcement of the proposals on Friday in Dresden, Germany, Seoul is poised to hold consultations among related government agencies to formulate a plan to put them into practice.
But Pyongyang maintained its bellicose stance toward Seoul. On Sunday it threatened to conduct a “new type” of nuclear test and continued its verbal criticism of President Park, which Seoul decried as an act that did not show even a “minimum level of courtesy” to a foreign head of state.
“Park Geun-hye traveled around European states, churning out embarrassing words such as unification, co-prosperity and exchanges,” said Rodong Sinmun, the daily newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, in an article Sunday.
“We are seeing right through it ... Park’s unabashed intention to harm us with poison embedded in her outward smiles.”
Analysts said that Pyongyang might have felt offended by the “patronizing” nature of Park’s proposals, and that it would see them as being aimed at absorbing the North to the South’s advantage.
But the impoverished state might be exploring ways to extract as much as possible from the situation to shore up its economy, they added.
“At this point in time, Park’s proposals are likely to be perceived by Pyongyang as a ‘poisonous apple’ ― a package that ultimately seeks to achieve reunification by absorbing the North,” said Cheong Seong-jang, a senior research fellow at the think tank Sejong Institute.
“Thus, persuading the North to believe that there is no poison at all in the package will be the major task facing the Park Geun-hye government.”
Aimed at laying the groundwork for reunification, Park’s proposals for “humanity, co-prosperity and integration” included extending aid to mothers and their babies; building infrastructure in the North in return for rights to develop underground resources; and increasing bilateral exchanges in various sectors.
Experts say that Seoul could propose high-level talks with Pyongyang to explain Park’s proposals. But Seoul appears cautious, as current tensions between the two sides could prevent fruitful dialogue.
Amid annual South Korea-U.S. military drills, the North has fired off dozens of ballistic missiles and short-range rockets in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Park’s pursuit of stronger international cooperation against Pyongyang’s nuclear program has also angered the North. During the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, she reiterated her calls for the North to denuclearize and secured support from the U.S., Japan and other countries.
For Seoul, the biggest hurdles to inter-Korean cooperation are Pyongyang’s refusal to show willingness toward denuclearization and its failure to take any steps to apologize for its 2010 torpedo attack on the corvette Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
While ignoring Seoul’s calls to show “sincerity” in its denuclearization commitment, the North has called for an early resumption of the multilateral aid-for-denuclearization talks. Pyongyang has already declared itself a nuclear-power state in its constitution and adopted a policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear development and economic reconstruction.
The North has also called on Seoul to lift the so-called May 24 sanctions while continuing to deny responsibility for the torpedo attack. After the corvette sank in March 2010, Seoul imposed the May sanctions, which cut off all government economic exchanges and cooperation with Pyongyang.
Observers say that rather than presenting any clear stance over inter-Korean relations, the North may continue to watch Seoul’s moves until the allied military drills end next month and U.S. President Barack Obama completes his trip to Asia, including visits to South Korea and Japan.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org