Pyongyang Putting on a Happy Face

Kim Yong Hun  |  2011-09-19 14:24
North Korea is now finally hinting at a willingness to discuss Mt. Geumgang tourism operations with South Korea, perhaps in response to recent overtures of flexibility from Seoul.

Compared to the Norths decision at the beginning of this month to run a trial tour for third country investors and journalists after unilaterally seizing the entire Geumgang tourist region and its South Korean assets despite the protestations of the South, North Korea's new attitude represents something of a volte face.

In an interview on Friday with Chosun Shinbo, the paper put out by Chongryon, the director of North Korea's Mt Geumgang Special International Tourist Zone Bureau, Kim Gwang Yoon spoke about the prospects of a restart in tourism operations in an interview with foreign press, saying We are always ready to negotiate if the South Chosun authorities display a proactive posture to overcome the difficult situation.

The interview comes alongside recent constant calls by the North Korean propaganda media for improvement in inter-Korean relations. Uriminzokkiri, another North Korean propaganda organ, also called for improved relations between the two Koreas in an editorial on the 16th entitled Inter-Korean Progress cannot be put off any longer, while Rodong Shinmun wrote last Wednesday that the South Korean government should repeal the May 24th Measures which followed the Cheonan sinking in order to set the scene for improvements.

Most people doubt that North Korea has undergone a genuine shift of attitude, and is likely to see strategic advantage in 'playing nice'. The benefits of so-doing could include aiding existing dialogue with the U.S. and helping Pyongyang to stay on the right side of Beijing.

On a meeting to be held this week in China by nuclear envoys from the two Koreas, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters on Friday, North and South Korea are the masters of the Korean Peninsula, and improvement in relations between the two Koreas are the only way to preserve peace and stability on the peninsula; China has been steadfast in its commitment to supporting that improvement.

I am confident that it wont be the same as the Six-Party Talks; we have very clearly outlined that we expect North Korea to take measures in three particular areas: nuclear weapons, missiles and problems with South Korea.

North Korea, as it is wont to do, is keeping a close eye on a number of things following talks with the United States, but it does appear as though something in recent times has changed," a diplomatic official in Seoul commented, noting, "In the past they said specifically that they would only talk about the nuclear issue with the United States, but the fact they are apparently willing to discuss the issue with us now looks like progress on some level.

Stalled relations between the two Koreas may have been kick-started by recent humanitarian aid. Civilian exchange programs began in July following the resumption of flour aid shipments, and in turn this could possibly have paved the way to expand future cooperative efforts in the social, cultural and economic spheres.

North Koreas calls for dialogue appear to have been spurred on by comments from the newly appointed head of the Ministry of Unification, Yu Woo Ik, about adopting methodological flexibility in order to find a breakthrough in mired inter-Korean relations. This suggests that North Korea is calling for talks as part of a wider effort to influence a change in South Koreas policy towards the North.

On this, Choi Jin Wook of the Korea Institute for National Unification told The Daily NK, North Koreas apparent attitude change in recent times appears to be a move to create the desired atmosphere ahead of coming denuclearization talks. I think they are trying to go to Washington by showing the U.S. what it wants; that is, credible action to improve inter-Korean relations.

Given the current situation on the Korean Peninsula they have obviously decided it is more advantageous to show a flexible stance rather than an uncompromising one regarding such things as flood damage aid and civilian exchanges. In particular, I think they are trying to send an indirect signal to America and China that they are working to improve inter-Korean relations.
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