July 18, 2017 13:14
The government on Monday asked North Korea for talks between military and Red Cross officials. The Defense Ministry proposed talks on Friday to discuss halting provocations to mark the 64th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War, and the Red Cross wants to discuss the resumption of reunions between family members separated by the war.
Contact between the two Koreas has been suspended since December 2015, and of course some kind of cross-border communication needs to resume. But is this the right time, and is begging the way to go about it? Since North Korea announced it succeeded in launching an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month, the UN has been discussing tougher sanctions. The U.S plans a secondary boycott that imposes tough sanctions on companies in third countries that do business with the North. Hasty inter-Korean talks could undermine efforts by the international community to bring the renegade regime to heel. President Moon Jae-in promised his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump to cooperate closely, but it seems unlikely that the U.S. is suddenly behind South Korea's latest peace overtures.
If military talks do take place, Pyongyang will undoubtedly be demanding a halt to U.S.-South Korean military drills, and it will also ask for an end to propaganda broadcasts across the border that seem to be effective in damaging morale among North Korean soldiers. These are precisely the kinds of demands that foment divisions in South Korea between hawks and doves, and they are bound to work their evil magic again.
The broadcasts resumed in response to North Korea's nuclear test in January last year and box-mine attacks along the DMZ that maimed two South Korean soldiers. Nothing has changed since then, and in fact the North has plowed ahead with its nuclear and missile developments with redoubled speed. Why on earth does the government expect that the North will change if it offers a few concessions?
North Korea has always used the reunions of separated families as a purely political tool, and allowed only a select group of its people to meet their long-lost relatives in South Korea. The aim, surely, must be to ensure that all these families can meet each other freely.
The pattern has always been the same. The North ratchets up tensions, the South seeks dialogue, and a few concessions are made. Then the cycle starts again. Previous government officials were fully aware of this, yet they still begged and, in some cases, paid a lot of money for cross-border talks to score political points. As a result, North Korea's nuclear ambitions continued unabated, and peace is an ever more distant dream.
The new government seems hell-bent on repeating these mistakes. There is no reason for anyone to get excited even if the talks do take place. A fundamental shift in the North's attitude is necessary to achieve denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula, and neither North Korea nor any other autocratic regime has ever made any fundamental changes without strong and continued pressure from the international community.
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