What a Tangled Web We Weave, by Kim Dong Jin

[Kim Dong Jin is Director of the Peace Culture Institute in Korea (PCIK), a newly-founded research institution based in Seoul, Korea. The PCIK is dedicated to sharing information, knowledge and experience on peace-building in conflict-affected societies. Pursuing a collective peace intelligence and peaceful open source collaboration, the PCIK provides space for researchers, practitioners and experts from various disciplines to discuss issues related to conflict transformation by peaceful means on the Korean peninsula, in Asia, and beyond. This article was first published on the PCIK blog site on Thursday, 30 May 2013. –CanKor]

kaesong_ind_nk_624On 22 May, the North Korean Committee for the Realization of the 6.15 Joint Statement proposed holding a joint ceremony at either Kaesong or Mt. Keumgang, to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the Statement issued at the conclusion to the 15 June 2000 Summit meeting between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The South Korean counterpart Committee responded positively, interpreting the proposal in relation to the issues at the closed Kaesong Industrial Complex.

“The suggestion to use Kaesong by North Korea as a venue for the event indirectly expresses their desire to restore the Kaesong Industrial Complex”, the South Committee said.

But, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesperson, Kim Hyung-suk, said, in a 27 May news conference, that the government would not accept plans to arrange a ‘political event’ that could stir up friction in South Korea, and that the Ministry had decided to bar its citizens from participating in the event. He then urged the North to first accept the South Korean government’s prior proposal for direct talks between government officials about procedures to remove the completed products from the complex.

On 28 May, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, North Korea’s arm for dealing with cross-border affairs with Seoul, criticized the South Korean government’s decision. “If Seoul is fearful that the gathering would trigger internal discord, it can send government officials with the group,” it added.

Meanwhile, South Korean entrepreneurs and members of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee were invited by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea for talks regarding the normalization of the complex. The Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee is a non-governmental organization which represents the South Korean business interests and consists of South Korean civil servants as well as retired high-level government officials including former Vice-Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho.

Yang Moo-jin, a Professor of Political Science at the University of North Korean Studies said in an interview with Yonhap, “the North may be trying to abide by a promise, made through its special envoy to China, to engage in talks.”

Choe Ryong-hae, a North Korean special envoy is reported to have said that “the DPRK is ready to work with the relevant parties to reach a resolution through multi-lateral dialogue and consultation, including six-party talks” when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping on 24 May.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se brushed this off, saying, “there will be no talks with North Korea merely for the sake of talks”. “North Korea should first implement its previous denuclearization pledges,” he added.

Several South Korean media members, including Seoul Sinmun, consider these recent conciliatory gestures of the North as a strategy to drive a wedge between the South Korean government and the private sector, and to undercut the South Korean government’s efforts to coordinate with the US and China in dealing with the denuclearization of North Korea.

With regard to the proposal to hold a commemoration ceremony, former Unification Minister Cheong Se-hyun agreed, in an interview with Pressian, that the North indeed appears to have a strategic intention and motivation to take the lead in a tug of war with the South and that it will not work. But, he also thinks that now is the time for President Park to implement her trustpolitik by expanding the agendas of the dialogue. “The North might agree to come to the government-level meeting, if the subject of the meeting is not only the retrieval of manufactured goods but also the normalization of the industrial complex,” he said.

Regarding the reported remarks by the North Korean special envoy to President Xi, Phillip H. Park, Professor of Political Science and Diplomacy, Kyungnam University thinks they are closely linked to the recent surprise visit to Pyongyang by Issao Iijima, a close advisor to Japanese Prime Minister Abe. Mr. Iijima reportedly discussed ways to improve relations between North Korea and Japan with the President of the North Korean Parliament, Kim Yong-nam (No 2. leader of the country) on 16 May.

Park suspects that the USA might be pulling strings behind the scenes. The US accomplished what it wanted at the recent US-South Korean summit in Washington; South Korea joined the Missile Defense System. Now the US seems to have found a way to deal with North Korea without losing face. Phillip Park commented that the US and China may have agreed to resume multi-lateral talks, initiated by China, regarding North Korean issues, during the preparation meetings for the upcoming the US-China summit early next month, which will be the new President Xi’s first meeting with President Obama. The US may have tried to lure out North Korea through Japan before the summit, and North Korea might have said yes to the US through China.

“Of course this is just guesswork,” he says, “but what if this turns out to be the truth? Then, what is the contingency plan of the South Korean government?”

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