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Irrational Actions

Posted April. 24, 2010 06:17,   


North Korea has gone as far as it possibly can in threatening South Korea. Pyongyang has seized in the Mount Kumgang area a reunion house for separated Korean families, a fire station owned by Seoul government, a culture hall, and a duty-free shop at a hot spring owned by the Korea Tourism Organization of South Korea. The North has also threatened to freeze the remaining real estate owned by the South and deport South Korean managers at the facilities.

Seoul built the reunion house at a cost of 60 billion won (54 million U.S. dollars) to expedite reunions of separated families. Pyongyang has repeatedly urged “cooperation between the Korean people,” but has smashed the humanitarian aspiration of all Koreans.

The North has raised pressure on the South, saying March 4, “If the South Korean authority blocks South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong, we will break the business contracts.” A survey and freezing of real estate owned by South Korea that followed the threat were apparently preparatory steps to seize the property. Pyongyang had hinted at a ban on passage to and from the Kaesong industrial complex, and could try to steal the business park as well.

The communist country’s recent actions against its southern neighbor are nothing but irrational acts. The North’s online news site “Between Korean People” specifically named South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who criticized Pyongyang’s firework display marking the birthday of its late leader Kim Il Sung. The site threatened President Lee by saying, “He will be forced to pay a huge price for defaming our dignity and will taste the bitterness in person.” The spokesman of the North’s bureau for supervising the general development of historical sites, a body which announced Pyongyang’s plan to seize South Korean-owned properties, said, “The situation is on the verge of a crisis involving the possibility of imminent war, let alone tours to Mount Kumgang,” citing the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan. This is far from being a gesture meant to suggest dialogue to resolve the standoff.

The Mount Kumgang tour has been suspended since July 2008, when a South Korean tourist was shot to death by a North Korean soldier there. The North can resume tours only after the truth behind the killing is uncovered and guarantee the safety of tourists, but it has worsened the situation by simply blaming the South. Seoul cannot afford to surrender to Pyongyang’s threat given that the North is infamous for ignoring inter-Korean agreements, including investment guarantees. The South cannot afford to remain committed to the tour in the wake of the Cheonan fiasco and the North’s attempted assassination of Hwang Jang-yeop, the highest ranking North Korean official to defect to the South.

If Seoul wants to correct Pyongyang’s bad behavior, it must be willing to suffer damage. If the South is unconditionally swayed by the North, it could end up paying a much heavier price. Two million South Koreans have visited Mount Kumgang and supplied hard currency to the North’s communist regime. The South has paid 480 million U.S. dollars in investment and compensation for tours, but the North killed a South Korean tourist and started to seize the South’s assets in the resort area. Seoul cannot afford to be merely wary of the 350 billion won (315 million dollars) invested by Hyundai Asan Corp. and subcontractors, and 60 billion won (54 million dollars) invested by the South Korean government. When the South Korean government, people and companies renew their commitment to never back down from the North’s irresponsible attacks, the Republic of Korea can then protect itself.