S.Korean government offers condolences to the North over Kim Jong-il’s death

Posted on : 2011-12-21 11:45 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Government hesitant on sending official delegation, but is allowing certain people to visit to express their condolences

By Hwang Joon-bum

Regarding the death of North Korean National Defence Committee Chairman Kim Jong-il, the South Korean government stated on Monday, “We offer our consolation to the citizens of North Korea. We hope that North Korea will swiftly regain stability and become able to cooperate in order to achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”
The government also stated, “We have decided not to send a governmental delegation to North Korea. However, we will permit relatives of late former president Kim Dae-jung and late Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-hun to visit North Korea to offer condolences, in return for visits made by the North [when the two men died].” In other words, Kim Dae-jung’s widow, Lee Hee-ho, and Chung’s widow, Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, will be allowed to make visits to the North to express their condolences.
The government made a statement to this effect on Monday afternoon, through Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik, immediately after a meeting of foreign affairs and national security-related government ministers at Cheong Wa Dae, chaired by President Lee Myung-bak. “In consideration of the fact that North Korea is in a period of mourning, we have advised religious groups to put off their plans to light Christmas trees in the border area on December 23, which they had planned to do.”
The government has found a point of compromise that brings together the diverse opinions of the public, politicians and various government departments in an appropriate manner. It appears to have judged it necessary to make a strategic choice for the sake of improving blocked North-South relations, even if some conservatives object to the messages of condolence or visits themselves. Also noteworthy is the relative swiftness of the announcement. “We made the judgment that getting this done quickly was the right thing, since putting off the decision any longer could increase unnecessary public controversy,” said one official from the Ministry of Unification (MOU).
“This is a progressive measure compared to the government’s ban on expressing condolences or making visits when Kim Jong-il’s father Kim Il-sung died, in 1994,” said Professor Kim Yeon-cheol of Inje University. “I believe the Lee Myung-bak government has comprehensively taken into consideration the opinions of conservatives [who oppose condolatory messages and visits] and North-South relations. This could have a positive effect upon North-South relations.” Objections from conservative groups, however, including a statement by the Freedom Advance Association saying, “Anyone that expresses condolences regarding Kim Jong-il, be they from the government or a civilian, will inevitably face the judgment of history as an enemy of humanitarianism and justice.” This can be taken as a sign that controversy is expected.
Groups such as the South Korean Committee for Realization of the June 15 Joint Declaration plan to put together delegations to offer condolences, making conflict with the government inevitable. 
Civic groups reportedly plan to respond to the government’s guidelines with a request to form a slightly broader, single delegation. “We have still received no specific contact from the Ministry of Unification so nothing whatsoever has been decided,” said Choe Gyeong-hwan, a spokesman for the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center. “When we receive details, we will discuss how Lee Hee-ho and late former president Kim Dae-jung’s other relatives will take part in the delegation.”
Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun expressed condolences and hinted at her intention to take part directly in a delegation. “I express my deep condolences regarding the sudden passing of National Defence Commission chairman Kim Jong-il, who began cooperating through the Mt. Kumgang tourism and Kaesong Industrial Complex projects and worked toward national reconciliation and cooperation,” Hyun said in a press statement issued on Monday. “I will observe the utmost etiquette as far as is possible.” Hyun has made several visits to North Korea since 2005 in connection with Hyundai’s work with the state, and held three private meetings with Kim. North Korea sent telegrams of condolence and delegations when Hyundai honorary chairman Chung Ju-yung and chairman Chung Mong-hun died, in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
It appears that family members of late president Roh Moo-hyun, who were not included in the list of those permitted to make visits to the North. They have also requested permission to take part in the delegation to offer their condolences. The Roh Moo-hyun Foundation held an emergency meeting of ministers and vice-ministers of unification, foreign affairs and national security ministries, and Cheong Wa Dae aides, under Roh’s Participatory Government and decided to send a message of condolence to North Korea. They decided that sending a delegation would be desirable. It stated, “The foundation has decided to send a delegation to express condolences and we hope that the government will examine our request for cooperation in a positive light.”
Groups providing support to the North, including the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation and the Korea Peace Forum, issued messages of condolence and offered consolation their compatriots in the North.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]