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Peninsular trust-building process still valid: vice minister

All News 17:42 February 29, 2016

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Feb. 29 (Yonhap) -- A senior South Korean diplomat on Monday dismissed growing concerns over the absence of progress in Seoul's initiative to build trust with North Korea, saying the initiative is still valid and should be pushed for with a long-term perspective.

Speaking at a Seoul forum, Second Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul also pointed to Pyongyang's recalcitrant and provocative behavior, which he said has made it difficult for Seoul's "peninsular trust-building process" to yield meaningful progress.

"When North Korea does not show any signs of willingness to change course, there can't be any progress. That is a corollary," he said at the forum that the state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy hosted to evaluate the first three years of the Park Geun-hye administration's diplomacy.

"The trust-building process remains valid and should be seen from a long-term perspective."

He added that the trust-building process would move forward should the communist regime take a path toward denuclearization with "sincerity."

After Seoul's decision to shut down the joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong following the North's long-range rocket test on Feb. 7, concerns rose that Seoul would find it difficult to restore ties with Pyongyang through its much-trumpeted policy initiative.

Seoul's sanctions-centric approach toward Pyongyang added to the concerns. After Seoul's brisk diplomacy, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is posed to adopt a package of sanctions for the North's nuclear and rocket tests, which U.N. officials say will be the most stringent "in two decades."

Cho also defended the South's efforts to improve ties with China, dismissing the argument that Seoul's relations with Beijing have exposed limits, as the U.S. has pushed for the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, an advanced missile defense shield, in Korea.

He said due to the improved bilateral relationship, Seoul was able to persuade Beijing to agree to a draft UNSC resolution of tough sanctions that include the mandatory inspection of all cargo going into and out of the North and a ban on exports of mineral resources.

China was initially reluctant to agree to tough sanctions against Pyongyang as it fears it could lead to the collapse of the isolated regime, a scenario that could spark a series of security and humanitarian crises, including the influx of North Korean refugees into China.

"The trust with China that South Korea has accumulated through summit diplomacy over the last three years has proved to be diplomatic leverage for Seoul," he said. "I doubt whether Seoul could pressure Beijing and induce its support for the UNSC sanctions resolution without that kind of trust."

At the forum, however, some panelists pointed out that Seoul's adherence to a "principled approach" has drawn criticism that Seoul's diplomacy has been "inefficient and inflexible." They also noted that it is premature to appraise the Park administration's erstwhile diplomatic policy given that there are still many variables to turn things around.

"Some critics still say that Seoul should have been more flexible in exploring or recalibrating various diplomatic approaches, although Seoul touts itself as conscientiously sticking to principles," said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.


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