[Editorial] Both South and North Korea need to take bold, resolute steps toward dialogue

Posted on : 2020-06-16 16:04 KST Modified on : 2020-06-16 17:19 KST
Smoke billows from Kaesong after North Korea blew up the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office there on June 16. (Yonhap News)
Smoke billows from Kaesong after North Korea blew up the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office there on June 16. (Yonhap News)

The 20th anniversary of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration of 2000 arrived at a time when tensions have been mounting on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea did not hold any commemorative events or issue any related statements that day.

In opening remarks at a meeting of senior secretaries and aides at the Blue House that day, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stressed, “The more difficulties we see as the situation in inter-Korean relations becomes more serious, the more we need to reflect on the spirit and achievements of the June 15 Declaration.” Describing both the Apr. 27 Panmunjom Declaration and the Sept. 15 Pyongyang Joint Declaration of 2018 as “solemn promises that South and North alike must faithfully honor,” he emphasized the “ironclad principle of not allowing this to be undermined by any changes in the political situation.”

In remarks directed at North Korea, Moon said, “We must not seek to cut off communication, raise tensions, and return to the past era of confrontation.” He also expressed his “hope that we can resolve the uncomfortable and difficult issues that South and North face through communication and cooperation.”

In terms of the history of Korea’s division, the June 15 Joint Declaration marks a turning point and dividing line between an era of antagonism and distrust and one of reconciliation and cooperation. The declaration is both a milestone and a compass for inter-Korean relations as agreed upon by Seoul and Pyongyang. To keep South and North from losing their way amid the crisis, we need to return to the June 15 spirit. Our two sides must respect each other and engage in dialogue.

Then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shake hands in Pyongyang on June 13, 2000. (Blue House photo pool)
Then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shake hands in Pyongyang on June 13, 2000. (Blue House photo pool)

The conservative media and political opposition are calling for a hardline response toward Pyongyang. But as we saw under the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administration, the situation only gets worse when the two sides start trying to match each other blow for blow. The first thing we need to do is manage the situation with a firm response to the launches of propaganda balloons as we explore what our next step should be. In a dialogue held at the National Assembly that day to mark the June 15 Joint Declaration’s 20th anniversary, Special Presidential Advisor for Unification, Foreign Affairs and National Security Moon Chung-in, National Unification Advisory Council (NAUC) Executive Vice Chair Jeong Se-hyun, and Sejong Institute Senior Research Fellow Lee Jong-seok, also a former unification minister, argued that the first step in extricating ourselves from the crisis should be to begin procedures to enact a law banning balloon launches as quickly as possible.

Looking at the process from which the June 15 Joint Declaration emerged, we can see that is a matter of making peace. On June 15, 1999 -- one year to the day before the declaration -- the South and North Korean navies had a battle in the waters near Yeonpyeong Island. Up until the moment of then President Kim Dae-jung’s arrival at Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport for the inter-Korean summit in June 2000, it was still unclear whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-il would come to the airport to greet him.

President Moon emphasized that this is a “time when we can’t simply wait for conditions to improve.” He went on to voice his hope to “actively find and implement projects that South and North can decide and pursue together as masters of the Korean Peninsula’s destiny.” Recently proposed ideas have included holding a “one-point summit” with the North, as Moon Chung-in suggested, or sending a special envoy to North Korea to explore solutions, as Dankook University chair professor Park Jie-won, former presidential chief of staff, advised. This is a moment that calls for boldness and resolution.

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

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