S. Korea, US recently discussed improving working group, Kang Kyung-wha says

Posted on : 2020-07-03 17:23 KST Modified on : 2020-07-03 17:23 KST
S. Korean foreign minister says Biegun and Lee Do-hoon discussed inter-Korean affairs in Washington
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha gives a press briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 2. (Yonhap News)
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha gives a press briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 2. (Yonhap News)

Amid calls for the South Korea-US Working Group to be abolished, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on July 2 that the two countries had recently discussed issues regarding the working group and ways to improve its operations.

This is the first time that South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has disclosed that it has responded to criticism by holding such a discussion since the working group was launched in 2018. Critics of the working group say that it has become an obstacle to inter-Korean cooperation.

During a meeting with South Korean reporters on Thursday, Kang said that South Korea and the US, responding to negative public opinion, had discussed how the group’s operations might be improved. Kang explained that this matter was discussed by South Korean Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon and US Deputy Secretary of State and Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun while Lee was visiting Washington last month.

“While [South Korea and the US] believe that the working group has been very useful, they’re also fully aware of [negative] concerns domestically. I’ve been informed that Lee Do-hoon shared this issue with the Americans on his visit to the US and discussed how the group’s operating methods could be improved to assuage such concerns,” Kang said.

In a June 17 statement, Kim Yo-jong, first deputy director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party (WPK) of (North) Korea, said that South Korea had “accepted the ‘South Korea-US working group’ under the coercion of [its] master and presented all issues related to the North-South ties to [the] White House.” North Korea’s claim that the working group had blocked the implementation of inter-Korean agreements made tackling the group’s operations an urgent matter for South Korea and the US to address.

Kang also said that “there’s still a consensus on both sides” that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposed visit to South Korea “should take place soon, within the year.” But she added that South Korea will “continue to deliberate with the Chinese while keeping an eye on various conditions, including the COVID-19 crisis and the situation in both countries.”

S. Korea to adjust position on GSOMIA, with deadline for its extension in August

With South Korea and Japan seemingly unable to find a way out of their current conflict, Kang explained that “there’s still a big gap in the South Korean and Japanese positions” on the issue of forced labor. As the deadline for extending the two countries’ General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) approaches in August, Kang said that “the South Korean government suspended notification of termination [last year] on the assumption that it reserves the right to terminate [the agreement] at any time.”

“That’s why we will continue to adjust our position on GSOMIA while analyzing various circumstances, including a number of movements by the Japanese in regard to their expert controls,” Kang explained.

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

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