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North Korea rejects Moon government's overtures

Ahn Jong Sik, Deputy Head, SBS Political Department  |  2017-06-14 17:24
North Korea has all but rejected a visit by a private organization to the isolated country for the purpose of donating materials under the approval of the South Korean government. The Korean Sharing Movement (KSM) has been in contact with the North Korean authorities to provide anti-malarial medicine, but the North has postponed the date. The nature of the response is being interpreted as a rejection of the visit. KSM received permission to contact North Korea on May 26, marking the first time in sixteen months that a private organization has received such approval. The granting of permission was widely seen as a tangible symbol of change in the North Korea policy of the Souths new government. 
North Korea informed KSM that the reason for postponing the visit was due to the South Korean governments support of UNSC sanctions on North Korea. The United Nations adoption of Resolution 2356 added fourteen individuals and four institutions to the list of sanctioned entities. The newly elected South Korean government announced that it supports the resolution, and the regime appears intent on expressing its discontent by cancelling the visit. A KSM spokesperson said that the North Korean authorities noted that it is currently difficult to proceed with the civil exchange because North Koreas citizens are furious over the South Korean government's decision to support the UNSC resolution.
North Korea also conveyed its dissatisfaction with the new government's North Korea policy to the preparation committee for an inter-Korean joint event held on the 17th anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration agreed upon by former President Kim Dae Jung and former Chairman Kim Jong Il. A spokesperson for the June 15 Preparation Committee said, "North Korea noted that it will keep an eye on the South Korean government's willingness to continue with inter-Korean exchanges related to the June 15 event while considering the persistent pressure and sanctions against North Korea."
North Korea recommended holding the June 15 event in Pyongyang, while South Korean private organizations proposed holding the event in Kaesong. The South Korean government also indicated its support for Kaesong over Pyongyang for political reasons. The regime therefore seems to be testing the waters with regards to the new South Korean government on North Korea policy.
Improving Inter-Korean relations will take time
The South Korean government has announced that it intends to flexibly examine the major issues in inter-Korean relations, including civil exchanges, to an extent that does not undermine the international framework of sanctions against North Korea. The newly-elected government is expected to push for limited inter-Korean exchanges while remaining in support of the strengthened international sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear weapons development. The present situation, in which all contacts between the two Koreas have been suspended and official communications have been halted, is problematic.
However, the South Korean government has been trying to improve public perceptions of its engagement with the regime. On the morning of May 22, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Unification announced that the government will consider the possibility of private exchanges between the two Koreas. In the afternoon of the same day, the National Security Office chief Chung Eui Yong met with reporters and said, "We should try to start working-level talks first and then private exchanges or social, cultural, and sports exchanges can be tried." The new NIS (National Intelligence Service) director, Seo Hoon said immediately after the nomination on May 10, "We can visit Pyongyang when the right conditions are met. An inter-Korean summit is needed." These remarks are not problematic by themselves, but considering the fact that the North launched a missile after the new government took office, such announcements give an impression that the Moon government is somewhat desperate to improve inter-Korean relations.
History has shown that in such situations, North Korea is unlikely to conform to the wishes of the South Korean government. It is likely to use the change of attitude of the South Korean government to undermine international cooperation on sanctions against North Korea. In this context, the North Korean regime appears to have decided to test the South Korean government on how far it go in improving inter-Korean relations. Therefore, North Korea's rejection of the meeting with KSM while simultaneously criticizing the new governments policies is a form of political pressure.
North Korea policy must be made with prudence
A spokesperson for the Preparation Committee for the June 15 event said, "We decided to respect the regime's request to hold the event in Pyongyang, and therefore will ask for government approval to visit North Korea. It is expected that North Korea will continue to maintain their position to hold the event in Pyongyang and state that the decision from the South Korean government will be seen as a symbol of progress for inter-Korean relations.
To hold the inter-Korean event in Pyongyang after North Korea has continued with its provocations is politically burdensome for the South Korean government. The Moon government wishes to maintain sanctions pressure while gradually expanding the level of exchanges, but the regime is well aware of this intent and is unlikely to cooperate easily.
North Korea may become emboldened if the South Korean government attempts to move with urgency on North Korea issues. Careful policy planning and strategic considerations therefore need to be taken into account by the Moon government.

*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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