After crisis, encouraging signs of improved ties could mask dangers
It is a relief that South and North Korea reached an agreement to defuse the crisis that had brought the two sides close to a serious armed conflict.
The agreement is highlighted by the North’s expression of “regret” over the recent land mine blast in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the promise of the South to cease its propaganda broadcasts into the North.
What’s encouraging is that the two sides decided to continue their discussions beyond resolving the crisis and seek to improve ties. What we note is the agreement on the arrangement of government-level talks.
Barring unexpected problems, the talks would offer a chance for Seoul and Pyongyang to discuss various issues like the South’s sanctions on the North and resumption of South Koreans’ travel to the Geumgangsan resort.
Even more encouraging is that the two sides agreed to arrange a fresh round of family reunions, with many family members aging.
President Park Geun-hye said that the South was able to secure the agreement because it held on to its principles — resolutely responding to the North’s provocation but opening the door to dialogue.
To be fair, Park deserves some credit for pushing the North to make a virtual apology for the land mine provocation — which is very rare for the isolationist regime — and turn the crisis into an opportunity for improving bilateral ties. In fact, Park’s handling of the crisis helped her approval rating go up to over 40 percent.
A buoyed Park said that the important thing was to carry out the agreement successfully and provide momentum for easing tension and ensuring peace and development on the peninsula.
But Park and her aides should not get overexcited by the end of the crisis and the prospects for improved ties with the North.
It might be ironic, but the cri- sis Park just dealt with showed that how fragile the peace and stability on the peninsula is, and how easily and quickly South and North Korea can race toward conflict in a matter of days.
When Kim Dae-jung flew into Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong Il for the historic summit in 2000 and another liberal leader Roh Moo-hyun did the same seven years later, many thought we were closer to reunification.
But since then we have witnessed the brutal attack on the Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo Island in 2010.
Park, who often says reunification is not far away and that it would bring a bonanza, would not and should not miss the hard-won opportunity to improve relations with the North.
But she and South Koreans must continue to guard against security threats from the North and the possibility of a rapid chill in bilateral ties, such as the one they underwent in the past few days.