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Minister vows to take long-term approach to inter-Korean relations

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : July 13, 2017 - 18:14

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New Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Thursday vowed to resolve inter-Korean relations with a long-term perspective amid a deepening dilemma over nuclear issues in the wake of North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

He took office on July 3, vowing to restart activity at the Kaesong industrial park, reunions of separated families, humanitarian aid and other inter-Korean initiatives. His commitment, however, faces headwinds, as Pyongyang has been developing its nuclear and missile programs and continuing to defy Seoul’s calls for dialogue. 

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (second from left) speaks at his first news conference on Thursday. Yonhap Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (second from left) speaks at his first news conference on Thursday. Yonhap

“The day after I became the minister, North Korea conducted an intercontinental ballistic missile test and soon after, President Moon Jae-in announced his vision for the ‘Berlin Doctrine’ at the G-20 summit. This made me realize the expectations surrounding the inter-Korean relationship, as it is serious and complicated,” Cho said at his first news conference.

“It’s difficult to expect a lot of change in 10 days, but I believe the inter-Korean relationship should be thawed step by step with a deep breath.”

Last week, Moon unveiled a “comprehensive approach” to tackle the issues of denuclearization and a peace treaty in parallel during an address in Berlin, saying he is ready to meet with the North Korean leader “at any time and any place.” He proposed that the two sides cease “hostile acts” including the South’s propaganda loudspeaker broadcast along the border on the 64th anniversary of the armistice on July 27, and hold reunions of separated families on Oct. 4, which marks the Chuseok holiday and the 10th anniversary of a watershed inter-Korean peace declaration.

“The Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed 64 years ago and President Moon mentioned this fact to stress the ongoing tensions at the inter-Korean border,” a high-ranking ministry official said.

“It’s important to understand that clashes at the border can lead to bigger risk factors.”

However, the official said that Seoul has no current plans to suspend its broadcast nor the supply of flyers toward North Korea.

“We can’t fully confirm the plan at this stage,” said the official.

“The ministry will have to make a decision based on North Korea’s reaction, current situations surrounding the peninsula and our citizens’ thoughts.”

The official acknowledged North Korea troops’ past retaliation against South Korean civic groups’ attempts to send flyers to the North. The former administration had tried to restrain such moves, on the basis that they could provoke military attacks on civilians.

The ministry also continued to support the reopening of the joint industrial complex at the border town of Kaesong, saying that there was no solid proof that the factories acted as a source of money for the communist regime. The former government decided to shut down the complex in 2016, arguing that its North Korean employees’ salaries and other costs were being delivered in US dollars to North Korean authorities.

On dispatching a special envoy to the hermit neighbor, the official said that the cross-border exchange was a sensitive issue that may “worsen the relationship” in certain circumstances.

“Such agenda should be pursued with careful consideration of the change in North Korea and the government itself,” said the official.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)