Will S. Korea lift 2010 sanc­tions against N. Korea?

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kang Se­ung-woo ksw@ko­re­atimes.co.kr

In the wake of govern­ment of­fi­cials’ com­ments that South Korea’s own sanc­tions on North Korea have vir­tu­ally lost their ef­fects, ques­tions are aris­ing over whether the South will lift the mea­sures of­fi­cially.

How­ever, even though the “May 24 mea­sures” re­main only sym­bolic fol­low­ing tougher sanc­tions by the global com­mu­nity, it may not be easy for the Moon Jae-in ad­min­is­tra­tion to make such a dras­tic move, as their lift­ing could cause a strong po­lit­i­cal back­lash from con­ser­va­tives do­mes­ti­cally, es­pe­cially while the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is still firmly re­tain­ing sanc­tions on Py­ongyang.

The eco­nomic sanc­tions, im­posed by the Lee Myung-bak ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2010 in re­tal­i­a­tion to the North’s tor­pe­do­ing of the South’s naval ship, the Cheo­nan, ban in­ter-Korean eco­nomic ex­changes and co­op­er­a­tion.

“The May 24 mea­sures no longer pose a bar­rier to in­ter-Korean ex­changes and co­op­er­a­tion,” South Korean Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry spokesman Yoh Sang-key said dur­ing a press brief­ing, Wed­nes­day.

He also said pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments had taken a flex­i­ble ap­proach and al­lowed ex­cep­tions to the sanc­tions, adding that much of the sanc­tions have lost their pur­pose.

His re­marks stand in stark con­trast to Seoul’s pre­vi­ous stance on the stand­alone sanc­tions, caus­ing spec­u­la­tion that the South Korean govern­ment is edg­ing to­ward lift­ing the decade-old rules.

Last year on the oc­ca­sion of their ninth an­niver­sary, the uni­fi­ca­tion min­istry said that the lift­ing of the sanc­tions needs to be re­viewed in light of in­ter-Korean re­la­tions and within the frame of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s sanc­tions against the Kim Jong-un regime. When the North sent its del­e­ga­tion to the PyeongChan­g Win­ter Olympics in Fe­bru­ary 2018, the South Korean govern­ment main­tained the sanc­tions but granted an ex­emp­tion for the oc­ca­sion.

In Oc­to­ber 2018, For­eign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha brought up the is­sue by say­ing the govern­ment was re­view­ing whether to lift its sanc­tions, but amid grow­ing crit­i­cism from the con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion par­ties, then Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Cho My­oung-gyon said the fol­low­ing day that the govern­ment had no plans to lift them.

The South’s change of stance on the sanc­tions is based on its judg­ment that they are merely a scrap of pa­per at this point given that in­ter-Korean ties have im­proved since Moon’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2017.

How­ever, the puni­tive mea­sures are not ex­pected to be lifted any­time soon, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry and ex­perts.

“There are no plans to is­sue fol­low-up com­ments at this mo­ment,” Yoh said dur­ing Fri­day’s brief­ing, adding that the govern­ment has never men­tioned the pos­si­bil­ity of scrap­ping the sanc­tions.

Yang Moo-jin, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of North Korean Stud­ies, also said he did not be­lieve the govern­ment would an­nounce the re­vo­ca­tion of the sanc­tions.

“The Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye ad­min­is­tra­tions tried to get the North to make an of­fi­cial apol­ogy for the Cheo­nan sink­ing with the sanc­tions, but to no avail. In ad­di­tion, they also al­lowed for some ex­cep­tions, mean­ing that they also ques­tioned the sanc­tions’ ef­fect,” he said.

“The Moon ad­min­is­tra­tion is now adopt­ing a new strate­gic ap­proach, aimed at ad­dress­ing the mat­ter through di­a­logue and co­op­er­a­tion with­out ruin­ing the goal of the May 24 mea­sures.”

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