[ed] Challenging Korean ties

Plan for joint celebrations should be approved quickly

Civic groups representing the two Koreas have agreed to hold ceremonies jointly to mark two important historic milestones this year: the 15th anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration that emerged from the historic inter-Korean summit and the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation in August.

The plans for the former are more concrete at this point. The two sides verbally agreed that joint festivities will be held in Seoul in June.

The government has yet to approve the plan. Given that the Unification Ministry has stressed increased cultural and sporting inter-Korean exchanges, there is a high possibility that the ministry will approve the June 15 events. If that happens, it would be the first time forthe two to come together in such a fashion since 2008.

Unfortunately, the North is ramping up tension on the Korean Peninsula On Friday, Pyongyang threatened to strike without warning at South Korean warships violating its territorial waters in theWest Sea On Saturday, the North said it successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine. The North also fired three anti-ship missiles into seas off its east coast.

The North’s latest actions follow a certain pattern that it has been sticking to over the past few years mdash Pyongyang employing a mixture of truculence and brinkmanship to gain the upper hand in inter-Korean relations.

Seoul has recently been increasing pressure for more contact. In April, Seoul allowed a South Korean private group to send fertilizer to North Korea for the first time in five years. Former first lady Lee Hee-ho will also visit the North this month.

Yet, it would be dangerous to brush off the North’s truculence as a mereusual pattern. The reclusive state’s leader has largely remained incommunicative, calling off his trip to Russia at the last minute. The North’s test-firing of a new ballistic missile from a submarine seemed to dampen international diplomatic overtures to hold talks to assess the North’s commitment to denuclearization.

The two Koreas howevercannot afford to keep their distance indefinitely.

Whether they like it or not, the shifting dynamics in the region where Cold War elements linger dictate that the North and South need each other Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have signed business deals after Putin hosted Xi in Moscow for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. Japanese-American ties are getting closer in the wake of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to the US Despite tension, Abe and Xi also met, smiling, on the sidelines of the Asia-African Summit in Indonesia

Seoul has been taking small but indicative steps to engage the North. The real challenge for Seoul now is to put forward a plan that is realistically attractive enough for the North to stop increasing tension, and return to the table for talks.

SOURCE: The Korea Times

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