Can a Thaw in Inter-Korean Ties Be Within Reach?
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Can a Thaw in Inter-Korean Ties Be Within Reach?
President Park Offers Olive Branch to North with family reunion, DMZ peace park proposals

30(Fri), Aug, 2013

President Park Geun-hye delivers her commemorative address at the Liberation 

Day anniversary event at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul on Aug. 15.

  President Park Geun-hye’s proposal for resuming reunions for estranged families between South and North Korea and a joint development of a peace park in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) rekindles the hope for a thaw in inter-Korean relations, which have been soured due to the heightened tensions, caused by the North’s ratcheting up of war rhetoric. 

President Park offered the olive branch while delivering her first Liberation Day speech on Aug. 15, one day after the two sides concluded an agreement to reopen the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation in North Korea, following a 133-day shut-down. 

President Park Geun-hye delivers her commemorative address at the Liberation 

Day anniversary event at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul on Aug. 15.

North Korea agreed to the proposed family reunions, which are scheduled to be held from Sept. 25-30 at the Mt. Geumgang resort, the first such reunions in three years.

But political analysts and pundits share the view that it remains to be seen whether inter-Korean relations will lead to a lasting thaw between the two sides, given the North’s precarious nature and explicit nuclear arms ambitions. 

President Park said in her Liberation Day address, “Now is high time to usher in a new era of peace of reunification on the Korean Peninsula, going beyond the era of distrust and confrontation between the two Koreas. If the North abandons its nuclear programs and become a responsible member of the international community, it will be possible to open a new era for the Korean Peninsula.”

Park went on to say that she expressed the hope that the agreement of reopening the Gaeseong Industrial Complex will serve as an opportunity to remedy what went wrong in inter-Korean relations in the past and help build a new relationship of mutual prosperity. “Through the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula, I hope that peace will take firm root and the two Koreas will be able to realize common progress.”

President Park speaks at a ceremony to commemorate the participation of U.N. Forces in 

the Korean War and the 60th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement at the War Memorial of Korea in 

Yongsan, Seoul, on July 27. (photos on courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae)

“First and foremost, we have to ease the pains of separated families, I hope the North will be able to work together to make the reunion of separated families possible around the time of the upcoming Chuseok holidays,” Park proposed. “In addition, I propose to the North the creation of an international peace park at the Demilitarized Zone, which is a legacy of division and confrontation between the two Koreas. By turning the DMZ into a peace zone, I hope that our memories of war and threats of provocations that linger in our minds will be removed and that efforts to make the Korean Peninsula a land of trust, harmony, and collaboration will be newly made,” she added.

When it comes to inter-Korean relations, in reality, the Park government is sticking to the trusting-building process on the Korean Peninsula. South and North Korea’s negotiations on the reopening of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex were no exception. South Korea insisted on the North’s measures to prevent any shutdowns of South Korean factories in the complex, ordered by the North unilaterally, a thorny issue in the negotiations to reopen the complex. 

Following President Park’s proposal for family reunions, South and North Korea have shown a wide difference on how to hold working-level talks on the issue and the resumption of the halted tours to Mt. Geumgang. 

South Korea made a counterproposal to separate the issues of the reunion of estranged families and the resumption of the Mt. Geumgang tours on Aug. 19 in a response to North Korea’s proposal to link the two issues.

North Korea accepted Seoul’s demand to separate the issues of the family reunion and the resumption of the stalled tours to Mt. Geumgang. It remains to be seen whether the two Koreas will take a step forward to make a full-fledged thaw in their stalled ties. 

Seoul has made it clear the preconditions for resuming South Koreans’ tours to Mt. Geumgang should be met. South Korea is as steady as a rock about its position that the North should make an apology and take measures to prevent the recurrence of an incident in which a South Korean tourist drifting into the off-limit area by mistake was shot dead by a North Korean solder in July 2008. The tour program, another big source of money for the North, has been put on hold in the wake of the incident.

South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae held a meeting with Korean and foreign reporters on Aug. 21 to explain the trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula, one of the government’s key policy agendas. 

A ministry official reconfirmed that North Korea should meet the South’s demands — getting to the bottom of the incident, guaranteeing the safety of South Korean tourists, and taking measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

The word on whether the agreement to reopen the Gaeseong Industrial Complex will lead to the relaxation of the May 24, 2010 measures against North Korea has come up. In accordance with the steps, South Korea has been suspending all personnel and material exchanges with North Korea, except the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, in retaliation for the North’s torpedoing the South Korean navy ship, Cheonan, in March 2010.  

But Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-seok reiterated Seoul’s position that Pyongyang should take responsibility for sinking the Cheonan. 

South Korea’s position is that the Korean government is committed to its North Korea policies based on principles and trust.

The two Koreas have agreed to globalize the industrial complex by allowing more free business activities and foreign companies to set up operations there. But the issue is likely to be pushed within the allowable scope of the United Nation’s sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear arms development.

The South Korean government favors an approach of solving inter-Korean pending issues starting with petty things one by one with the goal of building mutual trust before getting down to big-picture issues. 

Many North Korea experts agree that the North’s latest moves to warm inter-Korean ties may be interpreted as their desperate attempts to turn the tide in the international situation, which is growing more unfavorable to Pyongyang. 

China has been and still is a major ally of North Korea, providing key economic assistance to the impoverished North such as rice and oil, but of late, China has begun to show changes in its policies to Pyongyang, which continues its nuclear arms experiments. 

Massive reshuffle of the presidential staff

President Park appointed ex-justice minister Kim Ki-choon, as chief of staff, replacing the outgoing chief, Huh Tae-yeol, in a massive shakeup of the Cheong Wa Dae staff on Aug. 5. The announcement of the reshuffled presidential lineup came 161 days after President Park took office as the Chief Executive. 

Kim is one of President Park’s close confidants and part of the inner circle of the ruling Saenuri Party. Kim is one of the ruling party’s elders’ group known as the “Seven-Member Team” who provide advice on pending issues to the president. Kim said he will do his best to assist President Park in carrying out her state policies without a hitch by making the most of the experiences he has accumulated in his career in government and as a member of the parliament.

President Park tapped former ambassador to the European Union Park Joon-woo as senior presidential political affairs secretary. He has been credited for his outstanding job performance and leadership during his 30-odd years at the Foreign Ministry until his 2011 retirement. 

(clockwise) Kim Ki-choon, presidential chief of staff,; Hong Kyung-shik, senior presidential civil affairs secretary,; Choi Won-young, senior presidential employment and welfare secretary,; Yoon Chang-bun, senior future strategy secretary,; and Park Joon-woo, senior presidential political affairs secretary

Former Hanaro Telecom CEO Yoon Chang-bun was appointed to become senior future strategy secretary. Yoon, 59, served as CEO of Hanaro Telecom, the broadband service provider acquired by SKT in 2007. He also worked for the subcommittee on economic affairs on the presidential transition committee earlier this year. A native of Seoul, Yoon graduated from the department of industrial engineering at Seoul National University and received his Ph.D. in business administration from Northwestern University in the United States.

President Park appointed former prosecutor and lawyer Hong Kyung-shik and ex-Vice Health Minister Choi Won-young to serve as senior presidential civil affairs secretary and senior presidential employment and welfare secretary, respectively. Hong served as a state prosecutor for more than 30 years and held high-level posts including chief of the Seoul Supreme Prosecutors’ Office and Busan District Prosecutors’ Office. Choi, 55, is an expert on welfare administration.

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