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Seoul to drastically increase exchanges with Pyongyang
JANUARY 03, 2014 03:13  
South Korea`s Ministry of Unification has decided to drastically expand inter-Korean exchanges to the civilian sector in the fields of bilateral economic cooperation and social and cultural exchanges.

"In order to make progress on the Korean Peninsula trust process, we should go beyond inter-governmental contacts and diversify contacts with North Korean residents to change their perceptions," a South Korean government official said Thursday, suggesting that Seoul would engage in "public diplomacy" for North Koreans. Another official noted, "The idea is that we will seek to improve the inter-Korean ties by expanding economic cooperation, exchanges in religious and sports events, cultural cooperation and exchanges, and private organizations` assistance to the North."

The remarks indicate that Seoul will seek to resume inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation that haven suspended since the previous Lee Myung-bak administration unless there is an unexpected factor such as the North`s military provocation. According to Seoul`s Unification Ministry, there has been no economic exchange between the two Koreas since 2011 excluding those involving the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex. There were just one case of civilian exchange in each of 2010 and 2011, after 19 in 2007.

The issue is how Seoul will take concrete measures to bring Pyongyang to cooperation, as it involves the "fundamental issue" of lifting Seoul`s May 24, 2010 sanctions that bans new investment in the North and visits to the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The South Korean government`s position still holds that a precondition for the lifting of the sanctions is that Pyongyang takes measures that would convince the South Korean people regarding the North`s torpedo attack of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan in 2010.

Seoul has also decided to strengthen its efforts to build inter-Korean trust in addition to putting pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program and manage its internal instability. President Park Geun-hye is strongly committed to recovering inter-Korean trust while stressing pressures and deterrence against the North.

The Park administration has proposed as some of its key agendas to seek reciprocal exchanges and cooperation including practically helpful economic cooperation projects and multi-faceted social and cultural exchanges.

Seoul`s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in his New Year`s speech to his ministry, "It is necessary to grab the North Korean authorities` hand of reconciliation, peace and trust. Economic cooperation with the North is not about (unilaterally) giving but can allow the two Koreas to go on the path of mutual development while giving and taking things mutually."

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