Location South Korea South Korea

Two Sides of Korea Are Shaking Hands Again

Another thaw in tense inter-Korea relations is developing, as North Korean reps crossed by foot the Military Demarcation Line (in the DMZ) on January 9 at the Panmunjom, Korea, on the way to talks with South Korean counterparts for sending NK athletes to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
More significantly, both sides also agreed to resume talks on military matters, in addition to re-opening of military hotline few days ago, that may usher in much-needed reduction of tensions in the peninsula.

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The two sides agreed to expand topics of discussion following successful initial session at Panmunjeom

Just 10 hours after the beginning of the first inter-Korean talks in over two years, North and South Korea had finalized a joint press statement containing three points and agreed to hold more talks in the future about sports and military issues. The fact that the leaders of North and South Korea had personally arranged the talks through “indirect dialogue” appears to have created the momentum that enabled the two sides to narrow their differences. Not only was the communication channel at Panmunjeom restored prior to the talks, but it was confirmed on the day of the talks that the military hotline near the West Sea had been reconnected on Jan. 3, symbolizing how inter-Korean relations have changed in the New Year. The three points that North and South Korea agreed to can be basically divided into categories of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and inter-Korean relations. As soon as the talks began, the two sides made steady progress on the North’s participation in the Olympics. When South Korea proposed that the North send a delegation to the Olympics, make a joint appearance with the South at the opening and closing ceremonies and send cheerleaders to participate in a joint cheerleading squad, the North instead offered to send a surprising range of delegations: high-ranking officials, members of the national Olympic committee, athletes, cheerleaders, artists, fans, a taekwondo demonstration team and even reporters, all of which was included in the joint press release. Thus, the two sides agreed that a North Korean delegation would visit the South during the Olympics and that a follow-up meeting to arrange the visit would be set up through correspondence. Separate from the issue of participating in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, South Korea also proposed holding reunions for the divided families during the Lunar New Year, which falls in February of this year, and holding military talks to prevent unplanned clashes around the military demarcation line. These had already been proposed by the Unification Ministry following South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s speech at the Korber Foundation in Germany in July 2017. North Korea’s negotiators initially held that this would require further discussion until the right conditions were in place, but they eventually agreed to holding military talks. One of the major questions prior to the talks was what position North Korea would take about South Korea and the US’s sudden agreement on Jan. 4 to delay their joint military exercises. If North Korea announced a moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons and missiles during the Olympics in order to ensure the success of what Kim Jong-un referred to in his New Year’s address on Jan. 1 as a “great national event,” it could temporarily create a “dual freeze” (North Korea halting its nuclear weapons and missile tests and the US and South Korea halting their joint military exercises) that could ease the way for North Korea-US talks. “North Korea has already said they think highly of the delay [of the exercises]. They repeated their previous position on the military exercises during the talks,” South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told reporters after the talks. It appears likely that a concrete discussion of this will take place during the upcoming military talks. Along with agreeing to hold military talks and to work out the details of North Korea sending a delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics, the third point to which North and South Korea agreed during the meeting was to hold high-level inter-Korean talks covering various fields, ensuring that inter-Korean governmental talks will continue and that the momentum of dialogue will be maintained. The second point of the agreement promised to promote contact, travel, exchange and cooperation in various areas, suggesting that inter-Korean exchange, including the private sector, will be revitalized. But given the urgency of the matter, it is unfortunate that the joint press statement made no mention of reunions for the divided families. North Korea has demanded the repatriation of 12 women who defected from the Ryukyung restaurant in Ningbo, a city in China’s Zhejiang Province, in exchange for holding reunions for the divided families. “We spoke at length about the necessity and urgency [of the divided families issue], and during the exchange of opinions the North Koreans also indicated that they largely felt the same way. But since North Korea has its own viewpoint and position, no specific mention was made of the divided families, though they were implied in the ‘contact, travel, exchange and cooperation in various areas’ [that appeared in the second point],” Cho told reporters. Talks aimed at establishing peace through denuclearization are also expected to be a challenge. The South Korean negotiators spoke of “the need to halt actions that raise mutual tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to quickly resume dialogue to establish peace through denuclearization,” but North Korea made little response to this during the talks. However, this issue was brought up by Ri Son-gwon, chair of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, during the concluding session of the talks. “The South Korean press is currently spreading the absurd notion that the issue of denuclearization is being addressed during the high-level inter-Korean talks. This has a very bad effect. There are many things that must be done after inter-Korean relations improve, and spreading misleading reports at the outset doesn’t look good and could wreck the progress we’ve made today,” Ri said.

By Jung In-hwan

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