South Korea greatly expanded exchanges and cooperation with North Korea last year, buoyed by a diplomatic thaw following three inter-Korean summits, according to a new white paper published by the Ministry of Unification on Thursday.
The number of South Koreans visiting the North and vice versa increased sharply to 7,498 in 2018 from 115 in 2017, the paper said.
The surge was attributed to government initiatives to cooperate with the North on an inter-Korean railway connection project, a forestry project and various sports events. Social and cultural exchanges driven by civic groups and local governments also played a role, according to the 2019 White Paper on Korean Unification.
“The inter-Korean relations were completely cut off until a year ago,” Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said in the preface. “In difficult situations like a dark tunnel, the government consistently pursued peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and restoration of inter-Korean relations.”
Inter-Korean trade increased slightly, to $11 million from $10 million. The figure previously exceeded $1 billion, before the 2016 decision to shut down a joint industrial complex in the North’s border city of Kaesong in retaliation for missile and nuclear provocations by Pyongyang.
Efforts to keep the mood of dialogue with the North alive continued throughout the year: A total of 23 agreements were adopted over the course of 36 meetings, including the three summits between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the report said.
The Unification Ministry said it would seek to formalize these improvements in inter-Korean ties through legislation reflecting the agreement between the two sides as well as the positive changes in the mood for dialogue.
The ministry publishes the annual report to help the people better understand the government’s overall policy regarding unification and North Korea.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org)