SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) — Maintaining consistent policies aimed at building trust will bring positive change to strained inter-Korean relations in the near future, South Korea’s unification minister said Sunday.
In a meeting with reporters, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae stressed that Seoul wants to send a clear message that it seeks to resolve all outstanding differences through dialogue and show Pyongyang that it is not interested in leading South-North relations in an arbitrary manner.
“If our policies are pursued in a consistent, persistent and predictable manner, cross-border relations will be transformed in the not too distant time,” he predicted.
The remark comes after Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to senior level talks earlier in the month, only to see them fall through at the last minute because of differences over the rank of the chief delegate. This setback showed the fragile state of bilateral ties that have taken a turn for the worse after the North detonated its third atomic weapon in February and threatened nuclear war against South Korea and the United States.
Ryoo stressed that while South Korea is committed to doing its duty to lessen tensions, the North must reciprocate in kind.
Ryoo Kihl-jae (Yonhap file photo)
“If Pyongyang fails to take such steps, despite the South doing its duty, there is a need to show fortitude and handle the situation in a firm manner,” Ryoo said, hinting that showing a predictable pattern, even if this is a strong response, is part of the trust building process that is the bedrock of President Park Geun-hye’s inter-Korean policy.
He said that once mutual trust is formed, the next goal is to strive for sustainable peace that will prevent clashes and sacrifices that have marred bilateral relations in the past.
“Sustainable peace without backtracking must be sought,” he emphasized.
The official said that while some people have been critical about the slow pace of progress in dialogue, such views reflect the “old ways” of thinking. The incumbent conservative administration has said that it wants meaningful dialogue that can address key issues such as the North’s nuclear ambitions, instead of pursuing endless talks that lead to no change whatsoever.
“It is my view that in reality, there has been no fundamental change in hostilities between the South and the North in the past 60 years and that perceived changes have all been superfluous,” he argued. “Both sides really never opened their hearts to the other side.”
The minister also said that one part of his goal will be to form a social consensus on unification that has been non-existent since the 1990s. He said that to bring about such change there will be a need to approach unification, not only as a political and economic endeavor, but as a cultural process.
Touching on the suspended Kaesong Industrial Complex, Ryoo said that the important thing is not the immediate reopening, but what measures are taken to permit its long term development.
The official said failure to address fundamental issues will invariably place the fate of Kaesong at risk and scare away investors.
The complex, located north of the demilitarized zone and the last remaining economic link between the two countries, has been closed since early April following the deterioration in two-way relations.
On Beijing’s stance toward the North, Ryoo said through a string of summit meetings between South Korea, the United States and China, the three sides have shared the view that the North’s nuclear issue is an urgent matter.