Conspicuous at the memorial service in Seoul on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of former liberal President Kim Dae-jung was a wreath sent from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The late South Korean leader held the first-ever inter-Korean summit with then-North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il in 2000 and won the Nobel Peace Prize later that year in recognition of his efforts to improve ties with Pyongyang.
Opposition lawmaker Park Jie-won, who served as chief secretary to the deceased president, led a five-member delegation to the North Korean border town of Gaeseong on Sunday to receive the wreath sent by the communist state’s young dictator, who took over following his father’s sudden death in 2011.
Park told radio talk shows before attending the memorial service that he had held a “meaningful dialogue” with North Korean officials, whom he said appeared to be sending a “positive signal” to President Park Geun-hye’s government in Seoul. The lawmaker said Pyongyang seemed to understand the incumbent South Korean leader’s sincerity toward improving inter-Korean ties, conveying its wish that Seoul would lift a broad range of sanctions imposed on the North in 2010.
Park and other associates of the late president might have hoped that their trip to Gaeseong would help ease strained relations between the two Koreas. But the move has drawn criticism from many commentators here, who regard it as a breach of common sense and the rules of decorum.
North Korea should and could have sent the wreath directly to Seoul, if it had really intended to honor the late South Korean president. Park and his colleagues should have called on Pyongyang to do so, or at least ought to have received it at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom. A floral wreath is not something one should go to collect.
It should also be noted that their visit might encourage the North to continue to insist on handling inter-Korean matters its own way. Pyongyang invited the former aides to the deceased South Korean leader without having responded to Seoul’s earlier proposal to hold high-level talks.
If Pyongyang wants Seoul to lift punitive measures taken four years ago in the wake of North Korea’s torpedo attack on a South Korean naval vessel, it should come to the talks, stopping attempts to stoke and profit from internal discord in the South.