South Korea to propose family reunions, dialogue

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 27, 2013 - 20:45
  • Updated : Mar 27, 2013 - 22:05
The Seoul government will propose talks with Pyongyang “at an appropriate time” to resume reunions of separated families in a two-track approach to defrosting tension on the Korean Peninsula, the Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

For this, the ministry will suggest meetings between the Red Cross representatives of each side based on how inter-Korean relations progress, while also seeking dialogue between government officials.

The Foreign Ministry said it would place priority on pressuring the North to give up its nuclear ambitions but also promote dialogue as part of the first stage of President Park Geun-hye’s “trust-building” process.

These and other plans were reported to Park at Cheong Wa Dae, as tension persisted on the peninsula over North Korea’s repeated threat of attacks against the South and the U.S.

North Korea continued to escalate tensions this week by announcing on Tuesday its artillery forces were on their highest combat alert, and declaring on Wednesday it will sever a military communication line with the South.

“We must not haste and develop inter-Korean relations step by step based on trust as we would lay one brick on another, and create sustainable peace,” Park told the members of the ministries.

“The policies must be implemented with principle and consistently. Only then will trust and predictability build in inter-Korean relations and diplomatic relations.”

Park also emphasized that both sides should be upholding existing agreements, and that whether South Korea and the international community were consistent will be reflected upon the way North Korea acts.

Touching up on a need to educate the Korean youth on the importance of unification, Park said it was also necessary to develop logic to persuade any neighboring countries that are reluctant to a unified Korea to see the win-win aspect.

“To reunify, we need a common consensus from the neighboring countries and the international community, as we need more than just the efforts between the two Koreas, that unification is extremely necessary for the sake of Northeast Asia’s prosperity.”

On the side of sending strong warnings of stern retaliation against any provocation, the Park government has also been seen offering an olive branch. Last week, the new Seoul government approved its first shipment of humanitarian aid to North Korea.

Park has expressed determination not to tolerate North Korea’s nuclear ambition but also to separate the denuclearization process from humanitarian aid, indicating a position stauncher than the former progressive governments but more flexible than her predecessor Lee Myung-bak.

At the policy briefing, the Foreign Ministry revisited Park’s three-step approach to Pyongyang, which will involve first providing humanitarian aid and calling on the North to uphold the agreements made with the South.

If this first stage proves successful with confidence starting to build between the two Koreas, the South will then expand economic cooperation separately with North Korea’s denuclearization actions. The final step would involve engaging in larger-scale assistance if the North demonstrated a commitment to denuclearization.

For this, the Seoul government will continue close discussion with neighboring countries as well as the members of the six-party talks, and focus on implementing the U.N. Security Council sanctions, the ministry said.

It will also work to resume the nuclear talks bringing together the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia that have been halted since 2008.

“While there will be international pressure, the road to dialogue remains opened if the North makes the right choice to abandon its nuclear ambition. We plan on leading the North to come out of its situation,” a ministry official was quoted as saying.

Seoul’s new initiative comes at a time when Washington is facing mounting criticism over its “strategic patience” policy. Seoul government officials said the U.S. also fully understood the policy as the two allies faced a changing security environment under the young new leader Kim Jong-un.

Park is set to visit Washington in May and hold summit talks with U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time since her inauguration. Among the most imminent tasks will be discussions on the revision of the nuclear energy pact that bars Korea from reprocessing its own nuclear fuel rods, and negotiating the burden-sharing costs for keeping U.S. troops in Korea.

With China, the South will seek to bolster relations by elevating the status of its strategic talks currently joined by vice ministers, and expand cooperation in the political and defense fields on a long-term basis. As part of the efforts, the ministry also mentioned strengthening “exchanges of liberal arts,” as the two countries share the history and culture of Confucianism and Chinese letters.

But Park’s election pledge to set up three-way strategic talks among South Korea, the U.S. and China will be promoted in stages by inviting civic sectors, the ministry said.

Other plans included dealing in a principled way with the disputes with Japan over history, and to seek stronger economic cooperation with China and Japan through the three-way summit talks scheduled for May.

Regionally, the South will push to establish a cooperative mechanism tentatively called the “Seoul process” for Northeast Asia’s stability by encompassing bilateral and multilateral ties.

The Unification Ministry, meanwhile, said it would also seek “practical” measures such as proposing economic benefits to solve remaining problems of wartime prisoners and South Korean abductees in the North similar to that of the “Freikauf” method used by then-West Germany.

The ministry said it would also promote dialogue between high-level officials of the two countries to prevent provocations and continue its humanitarian aid through international organizations including the World Health Organization.

Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae expressed enthusiasm for improving relations.

“(We) do not mean that the efforts to change the inter-Korean relations will be passive by being bogged down by the situation,” he told reporters after the briefing session.

“It is hoped that once the principle of the Park administration comes into view, it will bring a change to the North’s attitude,” he said, adding that the government aims to create trust in steps by balancing out security and cooperation.

The Seoul government will discuss ways to generate trust between the two Koreas, and secure responsible measures from the North regarding the fatal sinking of the Cheonan ship and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

The ministry also suggested building a system to evaluate the implementation process of all existing agreements between the two Koreas.

Other social, cultural, economic and eventually religious, academic and sports cooperation will continue to be promoted based on the progress of inter-Korean relations and the denuclearization efforts.

Gaeseong Industrial Park, the only remaining joint project, will be fostered to become an international complex by getting products produced there to be treated as South Korean products for low-tariff benefits in trade with FTA-signed countries, and inviting foreign investment.

By Lee Joo-hee (