Divided family reunions could depend on resuming tourism at Mt. Keumgang

Posted on : 2014-01-07 14:58 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Pres. Park has suggested holding family reunions, but Pyongyang may only agree if financially gainful tours are resumed
 Jan. 6. On the same day
Jan. 6. On the same day

By Choi Hyun-june, staff reporter

There are questions over whether reunions for families divided by the Korean War, which were delayed in 2013, can soon be held after President Park Geun-hye proposed holding the reunions to North Korea at the New Year press conference on Jan. 6.

It appears that the question of whether the reunions of divided families will take place depends on whether the South Korean government will accept North Korea’s request to resume tourism to Mt. Keumgang.

At 3 pm on Jan. 6 - immediately after Park made the proposal - the Unification Ministry sent a telephone message to North Korea in the name of the head of the Korean Red Cross suggesting that working-level talks to prepare for divided family reunions around the Lunar New Year be held at Panmunjeom on Jan. 10. This was three and a half months after North Korea abruptly delayed the reunions that had been scheduled to take place at Mt. Keumgang on Sept. 21, 2013.

Considering that Park proposed using the reunions of divided families as a new opportunity to make progress in inter-Korean relations, the proposal can be viewed as implying the intention of resuming inter-Korean dialogue, as happened in the summer of last year.

“With Park offering the establishment of a basis for unification as one of the key tasks for her government this year, she probably judged that omitting a message about repairing relations with the North would have made her plans sound less persuasive,” said Kyungnam University professor Kim Geun-sik.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to be certain whether the reunions for divided families will actually take place. North Korea has made it clear in the past that the reunions for divided families are linked to resuming tourism to Mt. Keumgang, but the South Korean government’s position on that issue is unclear.

The government in Seoul has argued that the responsibility for the cancellation of the divided family reunions lies with North Korea. North Korea unilaterally announced that it was delaying the reunions on Sep. 21, 2013, four days before they were to be held.

Officially, North Korea has countered that the divided family reunions were delayed because of South Korea’s “attitude of confrontation.” But it appears that the decisive factor was that the South Korean government twice pushed back meetings for resuming tours to Mt. Keumgang, which North Korea proposed linking with the reunions.

Ultimately, it appears that bringing about reunions of the divided families - and achieving a general rapprochement between North and South - depends on whether Pyongyang will link the resuming of tours to Mt. Keumgang to the proposal for holding reunions, and if it does, whether Seoul will accept the North’s counterproposal.

Because of this, analysts suggest that if the South Korean government truly wants to resume the reunions of the divided families, it must adopt a flexible attitude in regard to meetings to resume tours to Mt. Keumgang.

“The fundamental position of North Korea is that the reunions of the divided families and tours to Mt. Keumgang are connected,” said Cheong Seong-chang, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute. “This time, the South Korean government looks to expand and systematize the divided family reunions, while North Korea needs to be able to get some practical economic benefit through resuming tours to Mt. Keumgang.”

But the Unification Ministry is maintaining a wait-and-see attitude on the issue. Ministry spokesperson Kim Ui-do said, “This proposal was unconnected with tours to Mt. Keumgang. If North Korea requests that the reunions be linked with Mt. Keumgang tours, we will respond at that time.”


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