Seoul Should Not Fall for N.Korea's Old Tricks

      September 27, 2010 12:52

      North Korea during Red Cross talks on Friday insisted that the resumption of package tours to the Mt. Kumgang resort precede fresh reunions of families separated by the Korean War. North Korean officials said that since all South Korean-owned facilities in the Mt. Kumgang resort have been confiscated and frozen, the tours "must resume first so that the inter-Korean meeting center there can be open for the event."

      South Korean officials responded that the family reunions are a humanitarian issue and cannot be linked to the Mt. Kumgang tours, while the confiscation and freezing of the facilities is unacceptable.

      North and South Korean Red Cross officials agreed to meet again this Friday, but the reunions, which are scheduled to be held between Oct. 21 to 27, could end up being postponed or canceled.

      North Korea proposed the fresh family reunions on Sept. 10 and said it hoped the event would reinvigorate humanitarian projects between the two sides. It appears that it planned from the start to use the family reunions as leverage to pressure South Korea to resume tours to Mt. Kumgang, which bring in much-needed cash for the regime. The tours were halted in July 2008 after North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist, and the South later halted all business with the North after a North Korean torpedo sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March.

      It would not be surprising for North Korea to try and use a humanitarian issue like the family reunions as a tactic to pressure South Korea to make concessions, brazenly using the pain and suffering of families separated for almost 60 years to achieve its political goals.

      The North earned close to US$2 million a year from the tours to Mt. Kumgang. After the shooting, South Korea demanded an apology and an investigation, as well as promises from the North to prevent recurrence of such incidents. But North Korea has yet to issue even an apology. Early this year, the North demanded that the Mt. Kumgang tours resume without preconditions and, when Seoul declined, confiscated and froze W360 billion (US$1=W1,155) worth of South Korean-owned facilities there, including the reunion center and a hotel owned by Hyundai Asan.

      The government must use this opportunity to solve major problems in inter-Korean relations in a principled manner. North Korea is up to its old tricks of offering one-off family reunions to just 100 people on each side to use them as leverage to squeeze concessions out of South Korea. Seoul needs to focus on the big picture to achieve fundamental changes in the principle of inter-Korean relations. It should work to make family reunions a regular event or change the current working-level talks to high-ranking ones. Only through such approaches can a principled solution to the Mt. Kumgang tours also be found.

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