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‘Inter-Korean relationship can be improved only when nuclear issues are resolved’

‘Inter-Korean relationship can be improved only when nuclear issues are resolved’

Posted January. 11, 2018 08:09,   

Updated January. 11, 2018 08:29


“Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a process and a goal toward peace,” said President Moon Jae-in during a New Year’s press conference on Wednesday. “This is a position we cannot give up. Inter-Korean talks have started, but I do not plan on alleviating sanctions against North Korea independently.” When considering the military talks that will be held soon, his remarks clarify the principles the South Korean delegation must adhere to.

Unlike the discussions over participation of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which is rather more like a one-time event, military talk is the skirmish that should lead to discussions over denuclearization. Unless South Korea’s delegation engages in the military talk with clear principles and unified position, the meeting after a long time can end as an event that North Korea can use to earn time. In this backdrop, it was very timely for President Moon to say, “Improving the South-North relationship and solving the North Korean nuclear issue cannot be dealt separately. Inter-Korean relationship can only be improved when the North Korean nuclear issue is solved, and vice versa.”

North Korea is expected to present all its “military options against South Korea” during the upcoming military talks. There is high possibility that the North will mention the permanent suspension of using loudspeakers to deliver anti-Pyongyang messages as well as the Northern limit line (NLL) in the west sea. On the strength of a phrase in the Joint Report, “We will solve every problem as our people are the ones that are directly related to issues pertaining to the Korean Peninsula,” North Korea will try to break up the cooperation between South Korea and the United States. It is also highly likely that North Korea will target internal conflicts by requesting the resumption of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism. It was appreciable for President Moon to state, “The Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism shall be decided under the framework of U.N. security council sanctions, and it is difficult for us to decide on our own if the North’s request is something within the sanctions.”

North Korea will try to negotiate during the military talks in return for its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics as an “South-North reconciliation event.” However, agendas of the military talks should be dealt separately from the North’s participation of the Winter Olympics. Measures taken by South Korea have been based on minimum punishment in response to North Korea’s provocation and preventing reoccurrence. Given that “Relieving tensions within the Korean Peninsula” was the goal of the military talk stated in the joint report by the two Koreas, it is evident that the essence of the report is denuclearization. If North Korea rejects to even mention denuclearization as it did during the high-level meeting on Tuesday night, saying “Nuclear weapon is targeted towards the United States,” there is no need for us to stick to the military talks.

Questions by foreign journalists during Wednesday’s press conference focused on whether the Moon Jae-in administration will give into North Korea. This implies how people are doubtful about the South Korean government’s position regarding the North. This is an opportunity for President Moon, who said “We cannot say that having talks is the only answer,” to demonstrate his words are not a mere rhetoric, which should be put it into action.

Kee-Hong Lee sechepa@donga.com