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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 25)

All News 07:25 November 25, 2020

Hasty expectations
Gov't should not hurry up with inter-Korean projects

Unification Minister Lee In-young said Monday that inter-Korean relations will be renewed with the resumption of communications channels via a now-destroyed liaison office within the Gaeseong Industrial Park. During a debate at the National Assembly, Lee, however, stopped short of calling for North Korea's apology for its demolition of the building in June.

"We should go forward toward a greater peace process without leaving the destruction (of the liaison office) in the records of a history of hostility," he said. In a separate meeting with leading businesspeople the same day Lee indicated that the inter-Korean economic projects may be restarted earlier than expected. It goes without saying that we should bring the stalled inter-Korean relations back on track soon and open a new way toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Now is the proper time for both Seoul and Pyongyang to seek new chances for peace as the United States is poised to map out a new strategy in Northeast Asia with the looming inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Apparently mindful of this, Lee might have cited the need for both Koreas to work on improving relations.

But this does not necessarily mean that the liaison office can be rebuilt and reopened in the absence of a North Korean apology for its demolition. We should refrain from pushing for economic exchange programs unless the North shows repentance for its "misbehavior." Most South Koreans vividly remember the scene of the obliteration of the office which was built at the cost of 17.9 billion won ($16 million) from the taxpayers' purse.

North Korea brazenly aired the destruction in a TV broadcast so that South Koreans could watch. It caught the South Korean people off guard as it was the first such case that a symbolic monument of inter-Korean reconciliation was unceremoniously destroyed, though there have been several prior cases of South-North agreements breaking down.

This means the demolition was a serious and intolerable act requiring a sincere apology from the North. We believe the destruction was made at the behest of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Given this, Kim himself should apologize for the incident. Or the apology can be made by Kim Yo-jong, Kim's sister and North Korea's most powerful woman, who had threatened to destroy it.

North Korea's apology is necessary in order to ensure such inappropriate behavior will not hamper further efforts to make progress in inter-Korean relations. Without an apology, the South Korean people will be unlikely to support any measures to boost economic cooperation and improve ties.

While pushing for inter-Korean projects, the Moon Jae-in administration needs to cope with the changing U.S. policy toward North Korea. Biden is set to nominate his longtime adviser Antony Blinken as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security advisor.

Blinken is known to have opted for a tough stance toward the North. The prospective nomination shows the Biden administration's intent to push for "principled" diplomacy in tight cooperation with traditional U.S. allies. Conflict between South Korea and the U.S. could emerge in the process of pushing for closer ties with the North.


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