[Editorial] Joint liaison office must mark beginning of inter-Korean confederation

Posted on : 2018-09-15 15:19 KST Modified on : 2018-09-15 15:19 KST
Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon and Ri Son-gwon
Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon and Ri Son-gwon

The Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office was finally opened on Sept. 14, a full 140 days after the leaders of South and North Korea agreed to do so in the Panmunjom Declaration on Apr. 27. Housed in the renovated former building of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Consultation Office inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the liaison office will be used as a place for communication between South and North Korea, staffed by officials from the two sides 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for ongoing consultation of the spectrum of issues affecting inter-Korean relations.

During the opening ceremony, South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon placed considerable significance on the office, describing it as “a symbol of peace that South and North Korea had built,” while Ri Son-gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), said that it was an “abundant harvest gathered by the Korean people.”

We hope that the liaison office, which was opened before the upcoming inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, will become a cornerstone for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

There were a number of detours along the road to the liaison office. South and North Korea had originally been planning to hold the opening ceremony in August. But the ceremony was delayed several times because of obstructions by the US, which wasn’t pleased with the idea of inter-Korean relations getting ahead of North Korea-US relations, and ended up being held nearly a month late.

These detours were a reminder that progress in North Korean-US relations needs to speed up for there to be groundbreaking development in inter-Korean relations. At the same time, considering that the development of inter-Korean relations created a friendly climate for progress in North Korea-US denuclearization talks, South and North Korea’s joint efforts to assuage American concerns and open the liaison office are themselves worthy of praise.

New chapter in inter-Korean relations

The opening of the liaison office is a significant event that marks a new chapter in the history of the development of inter-Korean relations. The Unification Ministry said that the liaison office will serve as a channel for ongoing deliberations and communication aimed at improving inter-Korean relations, easing military tensions and establishing peace.

Moving forward, this is where the technical discussions will be held for matters agreed to in the Panmunjom Declaration – such as the connection and modernization of South and North Korean roads and railways – and where deliberations will take place for realizing an economic community on the Korean Peninsula once inter-Korean economic cooperation gets off the ground at some later point. Just as Cho Myoung-gyon said, this will be “a cradle of our nation’s joint prosperity.”

The owners of tenant companies at the Kaesong Industrial Complex also attended the opening ceremony on Friday. Their invitation likely expresses the government’s desire that the opening of the liaison office will lead to the reopening of the complex, which has been out of operation for two years and seven months, since it was unilaterally closed by the administration of former president Park Geun-hye in Feb. 2016.

South and North Korea need to make a concerted effort to clear the way for reopening the complex as soon as possible and reigniting the sparks of inter-Korean economic cooperation. This will require the relaxation of economic sanctions by the international community, which in turn requires progress in North Korea-US denuclearization talks.

Taking the long view, the opening of the liaison office can be regarded as the first stage of South and North Korea opening reciprocal diplomatic missions. It also marks the admittedly rudimentary beginning of the establishment of an inter-Korean confederation. An inter-Korean confederation corresponds to an intermediate step along the path toward unification to which the leaders of South and North Korea agreed in the North–South Joint Declaration issued on June 15, 2000. Our hope is that the liaison office will be operated productively so that it can serve as a bridge to peaceful cooperation and joint prosperity between South and North Korea, and eventually to a single unified peninsula.

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

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