Why Did N.Korea Agree to Family Reunions?

North Korea appears to have made a tactical decision to resume cross-border family reunions in efforts to break through international isolation, pundits speculated Wednesday.

The North agreed to hold the reunions of families separated by the Korean War just ahead of annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises, even though the drills are a perpetual thorn in Pyongyang's side.

The government is then expected to discuss a number of humanitarian options such as resumption of food and fertilizer aid once the family reunions end.

"There has been no discussion of any concrete details of humanitarian aid," a government official said. "We can discuss supply of food and fertilizer depending on how the family reunions go."

Representatives of two Koreas exchange an agreement in the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday. /Courtesy of the Ministry of Unification Representatives of two Koreas exchange an agreement in the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday. /Courtesy of the Ministry of Unification

The North will likely face another food shortage this year. "Kim Jong-un released reserved rice from military storage twice last year, which his father Kim Jong-il had never dared to do," said Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification. "The regime will inevitably face a far worse food shortage this year because the military will resist strongly if he does that again."

The regime is still trying to stabilize in the wake of the execution of erstwhile eminence grise Jang Song-taek.

Pyongyang seems to believe that improving inter-Korean relations is a prerequisite to luring more foreign investment and resuming lucrative package tours to Mt. Kumgang, Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University speculated.

Since Kim Jong-un took power, the regime has depleted resources with large-scale prestige projects like a ski resort, water park and apartments in Pyongyang. Kim is believed to have pumped in a considerable portion of the slush funds he inherited from his father.

Park Hyeong-jung at the institute said, "After family reunions, the North will demand resumption of package tours to Mt. Kumgang, asking South Korea to make a concession, and then Seoul won't have a strong justification to reject the request."

englishnews@chosun.com / Feb. 06, 2014 10:55 KST