Af­ter cri­sis, en­cour­ag­ing signs of im­proved ties could mask dan­gers

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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