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[Editorial] Stick to Principles on N. Korea

Posted August. 21, 2009 08:20,   


A six-member North Korean delegation including Workers` Party secretary Kim Ki Nam and reunification point man Kim Yang Gon will arrive in Seoul today. They have yet to mention the four crewmen of the South Korean fishing vessel Yeonan who have been detained by the North for 23 days. The North’s delegation will arrive at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul by chartered plane via the west coast route for a two-day stay.

Following the agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun, the delegation has emerged as a subtle issue in inter-Korean relations. Experts say the two events can be understood as Pyongyang’s attempt to weather mounting difficulties in the wake of sanctions imposed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874. On the other hand, others warn that the North just wants to confuse the South.

Pyongyang probably recognizes that its decision to send a delegation to Kim Dae-jung’s state funeral needs approval from Seoul. Nevertheless, the North sent its notice on the delegation to the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center, intentionally choosing the center as its dialogue channel. The South Korean government has not efficiently dealt with North Korea since Seoul hurriedly confirmed the business agreement between Kim Jong Il and Hyun and the North’s notice on the delegation.

Pyongyang has discussed pending issues with the private sector when it should have done so with Seoul. Thus, South Korea must not unconditionally follow North Korea’s will. When former President Roh Moo-hyun died a few months ago, Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test shortly after sending a condolatory telegram. Even if the North’s delegation provides a chance to resume government-level talks between the Koreas for the first time since President Lee Myung-bak’s inauguration, Seoul must not hastily conclude that frozen bilateral relations will be thawed. Even if Seoul officials meet members of the delegation, the U.N. resolution and the South Korean government’s principles should not be abandoned.

Certain voices in the South impatiently say the resumption of tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang does not violate the U.N. resolution. The possibility remains, however, that the fees paid by South Korean tourists could finance the North’s nuclear program and missile development. Lee Hoi-chang, the head of the minor conservative Liberty Forward Party, said, “It seems that inter-Korean relations will return to their condition of the past decade in which the South danced to the North’s tune.” Seoul must listen to Lee’s advice.

Before revitalizing the Kaesong industrial complex and resuming tours to Mount Kumgang, the first order of business is to guarantee the safety of South Korean tourists. The North must come clean about the shooting death last year of South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja, guarantee that nothing like that will happen again, and issue a formal apology. It should also return to the six-party nuclear talks.

South Korea should not be deceived by North Korea’s latest moves since they lack fundamental changes. On an Internet news program provided by The Dong-A Ilbo, former North Korean official Hwang Jang-yeop, who was once the No. 2 man in Pyongyang’s hierarchy, said, “North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons. Though the North has not changed at all, South Korea blindly believes it will change.” Hwang is well aware of Kim Jong Il’s intent so South Koreans should take his warning seriously. South Korea should strive to resume dialogue with the North, but also take a careful approach while closely cooperating with the United States.