by Leonid Petrov (Australian National University, NKnews.org 28 May 2013)
CANBERRA – Inter-Korean relations are in the lime-light again. On June 15, Koreans in the North and South were meant to celebrate another anniversary of their first historic summit, which took place in Pyongyang thirteen years ago. Nevertheless, the late South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il would have been very sad to see how their successors continue destroying the legacy of the Joint North-South Korean Declaration.
After the recent exchange of threats and muscle-flexing, the demise of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) came as a symbolic end of a once-blooming inter-Korean reconciliation. What is particularly disturbing is that this happens just months after newly-elected South Korean President Park Geun-Hye had pledged to implement a new North Korea policy.
Based on the two principles of ‘Trustpolitik’ and ‘Alignment’, Park’s strategy was supposed to be more pragmatic than Kim Dae-Jung’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ but less ideologically-driven than Lee Myung-Bak’s ‘Vision 3000’. Disappointingly, Park’s strategy for the normalization of inter-Korean relations was flawed from the outset.
She emphasized the promotion of cooperation in security, which is impossible in the context of the continuing Korean War. She also insisted that the trust building process would be linked to the progress in resolving the nuclear issue and, finally, Park outwardly declared that her goal was to encourage North Korea to become a “normal state”. Such a program certainly has no appeal for Pyongyang to be cooperative in its realization.
The last five years have shown that neither in Seoul nor in Pyongyang is there any appetite for cooperation. The zones of economic cooperation are now dead and buried; they were too expensive for South Korean entrepreneurs and too damaging for the North Korean regime.
Politically, North and South Korea continue to demonstrate disdain to each other. In April Seoul was “demanding” that Pyongyang negotiate the resumption of KIC operations by setting an ultimatum. In response, the North cut a military hot line connecting the two militaries on both sides of the DMZ. In reciprocation, Seoul has recently brushed off a North Korean offer to resume the Six-Party Talks.
Zero-sum game on the Korean peninsula is continuing. Whatever North Korea proposes is blocked by the South and vice versa. Pyongyang policy makers know all too well that the Blue House in Seoul will refuse their offers, regardless of how sensible or tempting they might sound.
Similarly, the conservative Saenuri Party does not want to look weak or manipulated by Pyongyang’s initiatives and will always find a reason to decline the offer. Interestingly, however, mistrust between politicians sometimes creates some rare windows of opportunity, which could lead to a major breakthrough in inter-Korean relations.
No sooner did South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se call upon North Korea to make some steps to resume economic cooperation in Kaesong then Pyongyang proposed the return of South Korean managers to the ill-fated Industrial Complex. The South has all reason to fear the abduction or usage of its citizens for propaganda campaign, but this visit could be helpful in minimizing financial losses through the conservation of the abandoned facilities until times are better.
This informal meeting could also be used as a second track dialogue opportunity to improve the atmosphere for government-level negotiations. Will South Korea use this occasion to break the vicious circle of mistrust with North Korea? The moment of truth is coming for President Park’s ‘Trustpolitik’.