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[Editorial] Don’t rush ratification

NK drags feet on denuclearization; inter-Korean projects would require astronomical sums

On Tuesday, the government asked the National Assembly to ratify the declaration that President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed shortly after their first summit in Panmunjom on April 27.

It was pushy and impetuous of Moon to submit the ratification motion to parliament, despite an agreement to the contrary a day earlier by floor leaders of the ruling party and two opposition parties. The three sides had decided first to await the results of the third inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang next week, and only then to discuss whether to ratify the declaration.

The parties made that decision in an effort to avoid politicizing the issue ahead of the summit, but Moon ignored their wishes.

Ratification of the declaration does not guarantee peace -- that cannot be achieved unless the North gives up its nukes. Also, the projects mentioned in the declaration would require tremendous fiscal expenditures.

Once a declaration is ratified in the National Assembly, it is difficult to take back. To revoke an agreement that is already ratified, any future president will need to obtain consent from the National Assembly. If parliament goes ahead and ratifies this declaration, the South could face a tricky problem: whether it should push forward with the planned economic projects with the North even if negotiations to denuclearize the North make little progress.

Prudence is warranted. Above all, we need to be sure that the conditions are right for ratification.

Pyongyang blasted a tunnel that it had used to test its atomic bombs, but that tunnel was already unusable before it was destroyed. Pyongyang has since taken no substantial or meaningful steps toward the elimination of its nuclear program. It has not declared which nuclear materials and facilities it is willing to open up to inspection, and this missing information has stalled negotiations with the US.

Ratification at this stage would be out of sync with the US efforts to denuclearize the North, which include sanctions and pressure. It could also send the wrong signals to Pyongyang and Washington.

Along with the parliamentary motion, the government submitted its cost estimates for the inter-Korean economic projects specified in the declaration -- only about 290 billion won ($257 million) altogether. That is said to be the entire 2019 government budget for inter-Korean projects. But the government did not disclose a total cost estimate for all the projects, from start to finish. That amount would no doubt be astronomical.

In the Panmunjom declaration, the South agreed to resume all of the projects that former President Roh Moo-hyun and former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had agreed to implement in their Oct. 4, 2007, declaration, issued following their own summit.

In 2008, the Ministry of Unification estimated that the projects set forth in the 2007 declaration would cost South Korea 14.3 trillion won. In 2014, the Financial Services Commission estimated their combined cost at 153 trillion won.

It is a duty of the government to let the people know how much tax money will be required to uphold the declaration before seeking its ratification.

Presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok proposed Monday that the National Assembly speaker, two vice speakers and the leaders of all five major political parties accompany Moon on his trip to Pyongyang for his summit with Kim. But leaders of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party had already made it clear that they had no intention of joining Moon on his trip.

It was rude of the presidential chief of staff to invite leaders from the legislative branch to the summit so carelessly in a news briefing, even after some of them had already made their intentions clear through the news media.

The speaker and two vice speakers have also decided not to travel to the North with Moon. They have said that they are seeking separate parliamentary talks with North Korea. Speaker Moon Hee-sang said, “The way Cheong Wa Dae invited us was an affront to my dignity.”

Leaders of the legislature are generally not part of the presidential entourage, and Cheong Wa Dae should have extended the invitation more graciously.

Impatience and haste must be avoided when it comes to inter-Korean issues. The point of the upcoming summit is to build momentum for the stalled US-North Korea negotiations. Moon must not try to make a show of the summit, but should devote more of his energies to his negotiation strategies.