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[Editorial] Frayed ties

Two Koreas remain apart in landmark year

Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former President Kim Dae-jung, is on a four-day visit to North Korea, at a time when tension lingers on the divided Korean Peninsula.

The two Koreas have not held high-level talks since February 2014. They remain far apart from agreeing to hold joint events to mark the 70th anniversary of the peninsula’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, which falls on Aug. 15.

When the 93-year-old former first lady, accompanied by an 18-member entourage, arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday, President Park Geun-hye was giving an address in a ceremony held near the border with the North to break ground for the restoration of the South’s section of a disconnected inter-Korean railroad.

Park urged the North Korean regime to open its doors and embrace reform. She also called on the North to trust the South and join forces for inter-Korean reconciliation.

Her latest appeal again drew no response from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who invited the widow of the late liberal president to make her third visit to the North.

Lee accompanied her husband to Pyongyang in June 2000 when the first inter-Korean summit was held. She traveled there in December 2011 to offer condolences upon the sudden death of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un. At that time, Lee briefly met with the junior Kim.

It remains unclear whether she will hold a meeting with the North Korean leader before she returns to Seoul on Saturday. If the meeting takes place, Lee, whose husband pushed for the “sunshine” policy of proactive engagement with the North, is expected to deliver a message of peace and reconciliation.

But it may be an unrealistic expectation that the occasion would result in a breakthrough in the long-frayed inter-Korean ties as Pyongyang remains reluctant to hold talks with Seoul on substantial cooperation and give up its nuclear arsenal. Lee may have to be satisfied with showing her sympathy with the North Korean people by visiting the homes for orphans and the elderly to deliver knitted scarves and medicine.

In any case, it is undesirable that the only noticeable exchange between the Koreas in a landmark year is a trip by a nonagenarian widow of a former South Korean leader to Pyongyang.

President Park needs to take more active and creative approaches to induce changes in the North Korean regime -- by both increasing pressure and offering more incentives -- beyond reiterating well-intentioned but unsubstantial initiatives.