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Cross-border projects back on track

Second inter-Korean summit leads to resumption of high-level talks on June 1

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : May 28, 2018 - 17:03

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The two Koreas agreed to hold high-level talks this week, signaling a revival of cross-border projects.

The first round of high-level talks to implement agreements reached at the inter-Korean summit on April 27 will take place Friday, according to Seoul. The announcement came as a result of a surprise meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Saturday, when they reaffirmed the swift implementation of the agreements. 

(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

The ministerial level meeting was initially scheduled to take place on May 16, but the North abruptly canceled it just hours before the meeting, citing a South Korea-US joint military drill. It has often lambasted the regular exercises as dress rehearsals for invasion.

Prior to Saturday’s summit, North Korea’s shift to increasingly bellicose rhetoric had dimmed the outlook for the implementation of the agreements reached last month, also known as the Panmunjeom Declaration.

The roster for the high-level delegation is expected to remain the same, but with key North Korean ranking officials focusing on the potential US-North Korea summit next month, minor changes may be made.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon was to lead South Korea’s five-member delegation to the May 16 meeting, while the North had tapped Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, which is in charge of inter-Korean affairs, to lead its own five-member team.

Agreements such as a joint event marking the June 15 declaration adopted after the first summit in 2000 and the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War are expected to be raised as urgent issues at Friday’s meeting.

According to the Panmunjeom Declaration, the reunion of separated families, which was last held in 2015, is to take place on National Liberation Day on Aug.15.

The Ministry of Unification said Monday that inter-Korean Red Cross talks, which have served as a platform for hammering out details of the family reunions, will be held after the high-level meeting and military talks.

Laying the groundwork for inter-Korean economic cooperation is also likely to be a main agenda item.

Plans for connecting and modernizing the now-defunct cross-border railways on the Korean Peninsula are expected to be discussed along with a reforestation project.

Seoul previously mentioned a reforestation project for woodlands in the North, which have become largely exhausted over the years due to a vicious cycle of famines and natural disasters.

But resumption of large-scale projects such as the joint industrial complex in the border town of Kaesong and cross-border tour programs remain a sensitive issue. International sanctions aimed at curbing the inflow of hard currency into Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program ban Seoul from providing economic benefits to North Korea.

Forming a joint team and joint entrance at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games in August is another matter that is likely to be discussed. The two Koreas marched together at the PyeongChang Olympics in February and fielded a joint women’s ice hockey team.

The implementation of the agreements had looked bleak as tensions between the US and North Korea abruptly escalated ahead of the planned summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim on June 12 in Singapore. Analysts have noted that both sides were struggling to close their perception gap toward denuclearization of the North.

Last week Trump canceled the summit, taking issue with the North’s hostile attitude, but the North quickly expressed its willingness to sit down with the US. Trump, in turn, on Saturday left the door open for the summit, saying that the US is looking at June 12 in Singapore.

(mkjung@heraldcorp.com)