A top South Korean government official on Wednesday explained why South Korea effectively sent its condolences to the North over the death of leader Kim Jong-il and decided not to light three giant Christmas trees along the North Korean border.
"When Kim Il-sung died in 1994, the government issued an emergency alert and did not offer condolences, which greatly provoked North Korea," the official said on the customary condition of anonymity. "It took a long time for bilateral relations to thaw after that. So until the power succession stabilizes, there is no need for us to further provoke North Korea for no apparent reason."
He added, "This could be a chance for us to reestablish inter-Korean relations, but what's more important at this time is to reassure North Korea not to resort to provocations."
Referring to sanctions against North Korea in response to its sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in March last year, the official said, "We haven't decided what to do with the sanctions. From now on, the priorities of our North Korea policy are denuclearization, reform and opening policy, so large-scale economic aid is a possibility."
Seoul could approach the North Korean regime in January next year. "Since Kim Jong-un is only in his 20s, he will need time to be taken as seriously as his father," the official said. "The situation is likely to change, but not in the short term."
Meanwhile, the official said a key Chinese official had asked his South Korean counterpart whether Seoul knew of Kim's death before it was announced, and they concluded that neither China nor South Korea did.