South Korea said Monday it was seeking to spur its efforts this year to bring about reunification by establishing a legal and institutional framework, holding joint economic and cultural events with the North and boosting cooperation with other countries.
While pushing for robust defense and the North’s denuclearization, it vowed to formulate a vision for an integrated Korea, build consensus at home and abroad and expand dialogue and economic exchanges with Pyongyang.
The measures were submitted to President Park Geun-hye jointly by the ministries of unification, foreign affairs, national defense, and patriots and veterans affairs.
“As this year marks our 70th anniversary of liberation (from Japan) as well as division into two countries, we’ve set it as the year to usher in an era of unification, and our goal is to make substantive progress in unification preparations,” Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told a news conference.
“For this, the government will intensify collaboration within and establish pan-governmental governance with the Unification Ministry being at the center, while partnering with the private sector and the international community.”
The policy package is the latest in a series of North Korea-related measures that appear to adopt a dual-track approach of reengagement and deterrence ― from her “trustpolitik” and “unification bonanza” initiative to the Dresden proposal for greater humanitarian aid and economic exchanges across the border.
It attested to Park’s resolve to carry on with last year’s unification campaign as the showpiece of her third year in office and tackle mounting pressure over her lack of diplomatic legacy.
Concerns are also growing over increasing public apathy toward the reclusive neighbor and reunification especially among young generations, with some 92 percent of the South’s 50 million citizens born after the division.
Under the plans, legislation will be introduced to institutionalize the drive, facilitating the cultivation and mobilization of related organizations and personnel across the central and local governments ― even in future administrations.
The Unification Ministry would propose to North Korea to set up inter-Korean cultural institutes in both Seoul and Pyongyang and form a joint committee to devise and prepare for joint cultural, art, sports and religious events marking the 70th anniversary.
It is also looking to test-run a railway departing from Seoul for the North Korean border cities of Sinuiju or Rajin, via Pyongyang, which if it materializes could create synergy with an envisioned transcontinental express reaching Europe under Park’s “Eurasia Initiative.”
With Pyongyang remaining steadfast in its nuclear ambition, Seoul plans to beef up cooperation with the U.S., China and other core neighbors to settle down a “virtuous circle” of progress in denuclearization and then inter-Korean relations.
The ministry pledged to continuously pursue talks with the Kim Jong-un regime to realize Park’s Dresden proposal, to build joint economic infrastructure and intensify cooperation in three areas ― the people’s livelihoods, environment and culture.
In her opening remarks, the president reiterated calls for Pyongyang to accept her offer of “any form of dialogue,” discuss issues of mutual concern and work together toward unification.
Yet the latest package still lacks steps to induce a breakthrough in tense inter-Korean relations, critics say, while failing to address Pyongyang’s key concerns such as security issues, stalled tours to a North Korean mountain resort and a bilateral ban on inter-Korean exchanges.
“We’re calling for dialogue not just to discuss the various events I floated today but, more fundamentally, as a first step to take on distrust and military tension between the two Koreas, among other issues,” Ryoo added.
The Foreign Ministry, for its part, is seeking to ramp up diplomatic efforts to prevent a fourth atomic blast or other potential provocations from the recalcitrant neighbor.
It also vowed to help restart the stalled six-party talks ― including North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia ― and stimulate progress in the denuclearization issue on both bilateral and multilateral fronts.
“We’re planning to invigorate various three-way channels within the six-party talks including the one between South Korea, the U.S. and China to tackle the current gridlock, while exploring direct consultations with the North regarding the nuclear issue,” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters.
“We will make diplomatic efforts this year with the focus on mobilizing a meaningful denuclearization process.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com)