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Ruling party wants bold action on N. Korea: report

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convenes a meeting of key military commanders, July 30, 2021. (Yonhap-KCNA)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convenes a meeting of key military commanders, July 30, 2021. (Yonhap-KCNA)
South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party wants the US to endorse its initiative to rebuild ties with North Korea, the Washington Post said Friday, citing party leader Rep. Song Young-gil.

Seoul is eager to pick up the momentum for diplomacy with Pyongyang by using the hotlines that the two Koreas reconnected a week ago. The North, which severed them a year ago, had reached out to the South, which sees an opportunity to resume what it calls a trust-building process to revive inter-Korean dialogue.

“Reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex is a critical point for building trust between the United States, South Korea and North Korea,” Song said in an interview with US columnist Josh Rogin.
Song was referring to a factory complex that the two Koreas opened in 2004 and ran jointly until February 2016.

The industrial park, which was suspended because of North Korea’s nuclear tests, represents the culmination of Seoul’s peaceful “Sunshine Policy” toward Pyongyang. The policy, which the late President Kim Dae-jung rolled out in 1998, sought to achieve denuclearization through engagement.

And now Seoul and Washington should do more to engage Pyongyang and avoid a situation where they are forced to react to provocation from the North, Song said, adding that reopening the factory park, where South Korean companies employed North Korean workers, would do more than bring back trust.

Reopening it could reduce North Korea’s economic dependence on China, its only economic lifeline, according to Song, who said humanitarian exchange should follow.

It was not just Song and Moon’s party in favor of the initiative, the Washington Post said, citing Kim Ki-jung, a former Moon adviser who is now president of the state-run Institute for National Security Strategy. South Korea’s spy agency runs the think tank.

“When we consider what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula, now is the right time to take actions toward engaging North Korea,” he said. “They are reaching out to Washington through Seoul,” Kim said.

The US should more clearly communicate to North Korea how diplomacy could lead to the sanctions relief the reclusive regime has sought. Pyongyang is seen as grappling with economic sanctions from both the UN and the US amid the pandemic that has impacted the global economy.

But the Joe Biden administration is not as enthusiastic as the Moon administration about giving North Korea more incentives to return to talks, the Washington Post said, citing a senior US official who said North Korea has to choose to engage for deeper exchanges to take place.

Plus the Moon and Biden camps are seen as talking past each other over an approach to North Korea, according to the Washington Post, which said North Korea tops Moon’s agenda whereas it does not come across as urgent on Biden’s timetable.

Moon, who leaves office in May next year, is eager to try last-minute diplomacy with North Korea to carry on the legacies of the 2018 inter-Korean summits where the two leaders promised to bring about a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. 

But since the peace talks three years ago, North Korea has tested advanced missiles that could penetrate South Korea’s air defenses. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, has shown no interest in following through on the peace deals and has vowed to beef up the military.

By Choi Si-young (