[Editorial] Time running out

By Korea Herald

Two Koreas should arrange reunions of separated families

  • Published : Apr 4, 2018 - 17:32
  • Updated : Apr 4, 2018 - 17:32

A reconciliatory mood is growing fast between the two Koreas, raising hopes that it will have a positive effect on the upcoming series of high-level talks on denuclearizing North Korea.

The mood, which is expected to continue at least until the summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 27, was highlighted by a South Korean art troupe’s visit to the North.

The 160-member troupe, which returned home Wednesday, held two concerts in Pyongyang, marking the first time in 13 years that North Korea has hosted such an event. The troupe, which included 11 top South Korean pop singers and groups, was also accompanied by a taekwondo demonstration team.

The performances in Pyongyang reciprocated those presented by a North Korean band and taekwondo team in celebration of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February.

Kim, along with his wife and sister, attended the first of the two concerts, becoming the first North Korean leader to be present at a performance by South Korean artists.

He met key members of the visiting art troupe and expressed his hope to send another North Korean art troupe to the South again in autumn.

As Kim noted, the two Koreas need to arrange more arts and cultural events. That would certainly contribute to easing the decadeslong confrontation between the two sides and helping them find a breakthrough to defuse the nuclear crisis.

In this context, the two Koreas did well to discuss a proposal that athletes of the two Koreas march together in the Asian Games to be held in Indonesia in August. South and North Korean athletes marched together under the Korean Unification Flag at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics, sending a peace message to the world.

As the two sides explore more opportunities to deepen their rapprochement, one urgent thing to do is arranging reunions of families separated in the two Koreas since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The past 20 rounds of reunions, which first began in 1985 and continued till 2015, allowed a total of 23,342 South Koreans from 5,939 families to meet their loved ones whom they had not seen or heard from for decades. Tense inter-Korean relations in the past three years have blocked such reunions.

The biggest problem is that many of those who have family members and relatives in the North are elderly. Of the total of 134,500 people who registered themselves as separated family members in South Korea, now only 58,000 of them are alive, with many grappling with health problems due to old age. Time is running out for them.

It is not hard to imagine how they must have felt observing the latest inter-Korean reconciliation efforts, without any indication of resuming family reunions.

Neither Moon nor Kim mentioned family reunions when they met envoys the two sides exchanged on the occasion of the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics.

There is no doubt that denuclearizing the North, easing military tension and establishing a lasting peace regime on the Korean Peninsula should come ahead of anything else. Without progress in these security issues, all reconciliation efforts would be meaningless.

But it is no less important to alleviate the pain and suffering of those who have waited for so long to meet their loved ones living across the border that was drawn at the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The two Koreas should discuss the issue before and at the Moon-Kim talks so that they can arrange a new round of family reunions shortly after the April 27 summit. Otherwise, any agreements they make would be meaningless -- at least in the eyes of the members of separated families.