Will ac­cord with South end North Korea provo­ca­tions?


Although the rare cross-bor­der talks brought the two Koreas away from the brink of an armed clash Tues­day, con­cerns per­sist over whether the de­vel­op­ment would ef­fec­tively end what South Korea terms the “vi­cious cy­cle” of North Korean provo­ca­tions.

Fol­low­ing the four- day talks that stretched into Tues­day morn­ing, Py­ongyang of­fered a rare ex­pres­sion of “re­gret” in a joint press state­ment over the in­juries in­flicted this month on two South Korean troops by the “det­o­na­tion” of land mines in the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone (DMZ).

But the state­ment did not spec­ify what Seoul has re­peat­edly called a “provo­ca­tion,” thereby fail­ing to clearly hold Py­ongyang re­spon­si­ble for the Aug. 4 at­tack that led the South to re­sume pro­pa­ganda broad­casts on Aug. 10 for the first time in 11 years.

No Ex­press Apol­ogy and No

Non-Re­peat Prom­ises

A se­nior Seoul of­fi­cial said that it was mean­ing­ful for Py­ongyang to ex­press re­gret, par­tic­u­larly when the North has been flatly deny­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks. Also note­wor­thy was that the North en­gaged in di­a­logue de­spite the on­go­ing South Korea-U.S. mil­i­tary drills, which it be­rated as a re­hearsal for a nu­clear war against it.

“If you look at the past state­ments, it is very rare for the North to spec­ify it­self as the very party to ex­press re­gret. So this, we think, is mean­ing­ful,” a se­nior Seoul of­fi­cial told re­porters on cus­tom­ary con­di­tion of anonymity.

But an­a­lysts pointed out that the care­fully worded phrase de­picts the North as ex­press­ing re­gret as a third party would, and not as a per­pe­tra­tor.

“We could sense some feel­ing of atone­ment from North Korea, but the state­ment also sounded like a third party try­ing to con­sole the in­jured sol­diers of another coun­try,” said Chang Yong-seok, se­nior re­searcher at Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute for Peace and Uni­fi­ca­tion.

“What’s worse, the state­ment has no men­tion of any re­cent provoca­tive acts done by the North Korean side,” he added, re­fer­ring to a set of in­ci­dents in­clud­ing the ar­tillery at­tacks in the tense in­terKorean bor­der last Thurs­day.

De­spite mul­ti­ple provo­ca­tions by North Korea since the end of the 1950- 53 Korean War, the reclu­sive state has ex­pressed re­grets or apolo­gies on only a few oc­ca­sions, with­out un­equiv­o­cally rec­og­niz­ing its cul­pa­bil­ity.

In May 1972, the North of­fered an apol­ogy af­ter its spies in­fil­trated Cheong Wa Dae, also known as the Blue House, in Jan­uary 1968. But it shifted the blame to “ex­treme left­ist el­e­ments” in the North. In Au­gust 1976, the North ex­pressed re­gret to the then U.S.led U. N. Com­mand chief over the so-called ax mur­der in­ci­dent in which North Korean sol­diers killed two U.S. sol­diers who were trim­ming a tree in the DMZ.

In another spy in­fil­tra­tion case in Septem­ber 1996, the North ex­pressed re­gret, say­ing it would try not to al­low a re­oc­cur­rence. Most re­cently, the North ex­pressed re­gret over the 2002 naval skir­mish in the Yel­low Sea.

But the North con­tin­ues to deny its re­spon­si­bil­ity for the tor­pedo at­tack on the Cheo­nan war­ship in March 2010 that killed 46 sailors. For the shelling of Yeon­pyeongdo Is­land in Novem­ber the same year, which killed four South Kore­ans, it ar­gues the South trig­gered the at­tack by con­duct­ing a live-fire drill.

To the cha­grin of many con­ser­va­tives here who said Seoul should se­cure as­sur­ances from the North to stop fu­ture provo­ca­tions, the state­ment failed to in­clude Py­ongyang’s pledge to pre­vent a re­cur­rence of bor­der at­tacks.

The state­ment, for the time be­ing, de­clares that the pro­pa­ganda broad­casts near the Mil­i­tary De­mar­ca­tion Line will re­sume in the event of any “ab­nor­mal sit­u­a­tion.” Of­fi­cials said such an ab­nor­mal sit­u­a­tion would be de­fined by Seoul if it oc­curs, mean­ing pro­pa­ganda broad­casts could be re­in­stated at any time if the need arises.

Con­sid­er­ing the history of North Korea us­ing loop­holes of in­ter-Korean deals or multi­na­tional pacts to back out of them, how to en­force the agree­ment is cru­cial, an­a­lysts said. “So far, the two Koreas have al­ways bick­ered over their past agree­ments due to their con­flict­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of them. Many of the agree­ments have thus fallen apart or been in­val­i­dated,” said Koh Yoo-hwan, a North Korean stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Dong­guk Univer­sity.

“What is cru­cial for now is not our eval­u­a­tions on the suc­cess of this week’s ne­go­ti­a­tions, but our ef­forts to de­vise ways to ef­fec­tively en­force the agree­ment that came out of the talks.”

Al­ready, there ap­peared to be dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions, al­beit min­i­mal.

For in­stance, Py­ongyang’s state­ment said its quasi-state of war would be lifted at the same time Seoul stopped its pro­pa­ganda broad­casts. But Seoul’s state­ment did not have such a con­di­tion stated for the lift­ing of the North’s emer­gency state.

Nonethe­less, the agree­ment ap­pears to have laid ba­sic con­di­tions to restart bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion, as it states that the two Koreas will hold work­ing-level talks on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and ac­ti­vate cross­bor­der ex­changes in var­i­ous civil­ian sec­tors, the an­a­lysts said.

But they noted that a host of pend­ing is­sues, par­tic­u­larly the North’s nu­clear pro­gram, would con­tinue to pose hur­dles to Seoul’s ef­forts to fun­da­men­tally im­prove the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

“There are still lim­its to im­prov­ing the re­la­tions at a time when Seoul and Washington have been in­creas­ing pres­sure on the North to give up its nu­clear pro­gram. We will also wait and see how the work­ing-level talks un­fold in the fu­ture,” said Chang of the In­sti­tute for Peace and Uni­fi­ca­tion. “With the two Koreas mov­ing to start the talks on sep­a­rated fam­ily re­unions, we can mis­tak­enly think that the re­la­tion­ship is fun­da­men­tally im­prov­ing. But there is still a se­ries of struc­tural is­sues that are left un­re­solved.”

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