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(News Focus) Inter-Korean summit reaffirms Koreas' resolve to improve ties

All Headlines 22:24 April 27, 2018

By Kim Soo-yeon

GOYANG, South Korea, April 27 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made firm commitments Friday to put the long-stalled reconciliation efforts back on track as they agreed on a number of steps designed to promote cooperation and exchanges.

Improving inter-Korean relations was one of three main agenda items for the historic summit held at the border truce village of Panmunjom, along with denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and establishing a permanent peace there.

The two leaders agreed to hold reunions of separated families on the occasion of the Liberation Day on Aug. 15, one of the most pressing humanitarian issues, according to a joint summit declaration.

They also agreed to set up a joint permanent liaison office in the North's border town of Kaesong and make efforts to re-link and modernize cross-border railways and roads.

"The 2018 summit agreement reflects the two Koreas' will to make their better relations help bring peace to the Korean Peninsula and resolve the North Korea nuclear issue," said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.

The declaration appeared to complement inter-Korean summit agreements in 2000 and 2007, which had not been fully implemented under previous South Korean conservative governments.

The two Koreas' agreement to resume reunions of divided families was apparently due to a bold decision by North Korean Kim Jong-un, analysts said.

The North had previously politicized the issue. In exchange for reunion events, it demanded Seoul should return 12 female North Koreans who worked at a restaurant in China and defected to South Korea en masse in 2016.

Seoul puts priority on resolving the issue, as more aging Koreans have passed away without being able to meet their kin on the opposite side of the tense border.

About 55 percent of an estimated 131,530 South Koreans on the waiting list for reunions have died as of the end of March, according to Seoul's unification ministry. The last reunion event was held in October 2015.

The Koreas are likely to hold Red Cross talks as early as May to arrange details about reunion events.

South and North Korea also decided to set up a joint permanent liaison office in the North's border city of Kaesong to facilitate closer communication.

Kaesong, located just north of the border, hosts a now-shuttered joint industrial complex.

Currently, the two Koreas have respective liaison offices on each side of the border, using phones and fax machines for communication.

The joint communication office, if established, is expected to prevent miscommunication from hampering inter-Korean ties and help accelerate the regularization of inter-Korean talks, experts said.

"If the liaison office is set up in Kaesong, which is easily accessible to both South and North Koreans, the Koreas could spur cooperation and civilian exchanges," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.

But the summit agreement also showed that the Koreas face limitations in seeking large-scale economic projects under tougher international sanctions.

The Oct. 4 declaration adopted after the 2007 summit contained ways to boost economic cooperation, including an expansion of a joint industrial complex in the North Korean city of Kaesong and the launch of cross-border cargo railway service.

The Friday agreement said that the two Koreas will actively pursue projects agreed upon in 2007. As part of such efforts, they plan to explore "practical" measures to link and modernize railways and roads across the border.

But it stopped short of mentioning a possibility of resuming projects including the Kaesong Industrial Complex, as it is impossible to allow a large sum of hard currency to North Korea under the tough sanctions regime.

"The latest agreement marked meaningful progress in terms of inter-Korean ties, but its smooth implementation hinges on progress of North Korea's denuclearization. That's why an upcoming summit between Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump takes significance," said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.


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