“Consultations between the two Koreas are still under way. It is expected that we will have the meeting this week,” ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a regular press briefing.
President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other’s country and open a joint liaison office in the North’s border city of Kaesong. They also vowed economic cooperation efforts in a joint declaration signed during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjeom on April 27.
Though several issues are expected to be raised, a topic that calls for immediate attention is the resumption of reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War. Both sides confirmed in the Panmunjeom Declaration that the event would be held on Aug. 15.
Seoul had asked Pyongyang for the revival of the event halted since 2015, highlighting the age of the separated family members. Out of a total of 131,447 South Koreans registered as members of separated families in a government database, 72,762 have died in the past 30 years, as of spring 2018, including 3,795 who died in 2017.
An inter-Korean Red Cross meeting, which works as a platform to hammer out details including the date and venue of the reunion events, has yet to be held.
On the revival of key economic projects, officials and experts have noted that it may be “too soon” to go forward with plans linked to the now-shuttered joint industrial complex in Kaesong and cross-border tour programs, due to layers of international sanctions imposed on the North. The economic sanctions aim to block the flow of hard currency from entering North Korea.
For the moment, Seoul has decided to pursue a reforestation project to restore North Korea’s much-damaged woodlands. A task force specializing in research linked to inter-Korean forestation projects will be formed, Cheong Wa Dae recently said, in an effort to break the vicious cycle of deforestation and food shortage in the North. The presidential office added the topic would be raised at the high-level talks.
South Korean humanitarian aid projects to the North are another pressing matter to be discussed. The chief of the World Food Program David Beasly is scheduled to meet Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Tuesday.
In September 2017, the Seoul government decided to provide $8 million in humanitarian aid to the North through global agencies such as the WFP, but the plan fell through due to Pyongyang’s lack of response and its military provocations.
The release of six South Koreans held captive by the North Korean government is expected to be raised as well, on the heels of Pyongyang’s release of three US prisoners. Three Americans were released when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang last week to discuss details of the upcoming US-North Korea summit.
Last week, Seoul said that it proposed holding such a meeting early this week and that the North had yet to respond.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org)