Cross-Border Deal Is a Modest Achievement

      August 26, 2015 13:14

      The agreement between North and South Korea following marathon negotiations is receiving contrasting reviews. The government stresses that it is extremely rare for the North to express "regret" for any provocation, but critics say regret is nowhere near adequate for the severe maiming of two soldiers by North Korean box mines in the demilitarized zone.

      The wording of the agreement invites such criticism. Hwang Pyong-so, the North Korean army's politburo chief, was able to spin the agreement the other way, claiming South Korea had "learned a serious lesson" and the allegation that the North planted the mines was "groundless."

      Some observers feel the agreement is important because it shows just how much North Korea fears the propaganda broadcasts. And Seoul has reserved the option to resume the loudspeaker broadcasts if Pyongyang resorts to provocations again. This could be seen as securing a strong deterrent.

      If North Korea was not responsible for the box mines, it would have had no reason to sign the agreement. That is why the latest agreement should not be written off as useless. At the same time, it should not be treated as a dramatic step toward improved inter-Korean relations.

      North and South Korea also agreed to resume the reunions of families separated by the Korean War. A Cheong Wa Dae spokesman on Tuesday said what is important now is the pursuit of various inter-Korean projects as agreed by the two sides. A Unification Ministry official said, "We will seek to hold regular meetings with North Korean officials." This atmosphere must be maintained.

      But everything hinges on whether North Korea can finally take responsibility for and apologize for the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan that took the lives of 46 South Korean sailors back in 2010. That provocation prompted the South to implement sanctions against the North. If Pyongyang apologizes, the sanctions can be lifted and cross-border projects resume. But if Seoul decides to pursue cross-border projects without an apology, the public will be deeply disappointed.

      The North Koreans demanded during the latest talks that package tours to Mt. Kumgang should start again. The cruises were halted back in 2008, when North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist. It remains to be seen whether the North is truly interested in exchanges or if it is merely hungry for cash.

      North Korea test-fired a missile even as separated families were holding reunions in February of last year. And it is not likely to scrap its missile and nuclear weapons development programs. Cross-border dialogue must continue, but expectations should be modest.

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