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[Editorial] Squaring Shoulders With the North

Posted May. 23, 2003 22:17,   


South Korea needs to be more demanding towards North Korea when it comes to the inter-Korean relationship. It is welcoming in this regard that the South delegation was more imposing at the fifth inter-Korean economic cooperation talks which ended yesterday as compared to previous events. This was a due response to urge the North’s delegation to clarify remarks about `an unfathomable disaster`. Since the former Kim government too often made concessions to the North, it is now seen as a rare move for the government to demand any explanation.

It is also welcoming that the government had Pyongyang agree on the principal of transparency in distribution of 400,000 tons of rice aid. It has long been speculated that the North Korean government provides rice, intended for famine-stricken North Korean people, to its soldiers instead. By monitoring the distribution process, we will offer humanitarian aid in a real sense.

It is regrettable, however, that the government accepted the North`s vague explanation about its opening remarks, that the rhetoric was `intended to urge mutual effort to avoid war`. Since the government even said the talks could break down due to the threat, it must have asked for a more specific apology and a promise that a similar incident would not happen. It would have been better for the delegation to boycott the talks and return home right away.

The more troubling part is that the government failed to take issue with the North`s nuclear program while asking for an explanation about the opening remarks. If the government intends to leverage inter-Korean talks as a means to solve the nuclear issue, it seems that this time it failed to approach the issue at all. North Korea might have made the provocative remarks intentionally to avoid talks on its nuclear program.

Also controversial is the agreement to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for Gaesung Industrial Complex and a ceremony for the completion of the Gyeongui and Donghae lines around June 15, marking the third anniversary of the inter-Korean summit in 2000. The government agreed with Washington last week that it would decide the scale and timeline of inter-Korean economic cooperation in connection with the nuclear issue, which is contradictory to the latest agreement with the North’s delegation. Re-linking the railway will come to no fruition if the nuclear issue is not resolved. The government must also seek approval at the National Assembly for humanitarian aid of rice and fertilizer.