The South Korean government has recently proposed Red Cross talks to the North Korean military authorities. This can be seen as an ‘active measure toward dialogue’ by the Moon Jae In government, which aims to pursue sanctions and dialogue simultaneously. The prospects are not promising, as North Korea has been criticizing Moon’s so-called ‘Berlin project’ as ‘meaningless rubbish,’ but there is also a possibility that the offer will be accepted by North Korea for strategic purposes.
It remains to be seen on what terms North Korea will accept the proposal. In view of the North’s previous responses toward the Moon government, the approval of the Berlin project is highly unlikely. According to reporting by the Rodong Sinmun (North Korea’s state-run newspaper) on July 15, North Korea holds a negative attitude toward the Moon government because of its ‘policy of simultaneous pursuit of dialogue and sanctions’ and the demand for denuclearization.
If North Korea agrees to resume talks, it will likely be solely to achieve its own agenda. There may be short-term practical benefits regarding the issue of South Korea’s loudspeaker broadcasting over the DMZ, which is a source of irritation for North Korea. If participating in dialogue can put a stop on loudspeaker broadcasting, North Korea will deem it worthwhile.
In a more long-term strategic view, North Korea may accept South Korea’s offer to talk in terms of helping to ease sanctions pressure and encourage tension between the US and South Korea. Given past behavioral patterns, North Korea is highly likely to continue launching missiles. Therefore, if South Korea resumes dialogue with North Korea while the North continues launching ICBMs, it may create conflict between the South Korean government and the international community, particularly the US which is emphasizing pressure and sanctions. In regards to a reunion of separated families that may occur at the time of the Chuseok holiday (Korean Thanksgiving Day, August 15th in the lunar calendar), it could put South Korea in an awkward situation if North Korea conducts a provocation, such as a nuclear test, around that time.
The South Korean government needs to remain vigilant in regards to North Korea’s intentions. The Moon government appears to be thinking that restoring inter-Korean relations must be put first despite North Korea’s hidden agendas. This is because it will become even harder to create momentum toward the improvement of inter-Korean relations while the North progresses towards nuclear armament
The next phase in inter-Korean relations is likely to keep repeating the advance and retreat patterns seen in the past. However, bilateral relations are expected to improve to a certain degree as they are currently at an all-time low.
Analysts remain divided as to how far inter-Korean relations can advance in this stage of strategic interactions. The nuclear issue can no longer be ignored, so while contacts and personal exchanges may be possible, in order for inter-Korean relations to move forward to a higher level, the nuclear issue must inevitably be addressed. Given that the two Koreas have two very different agendas, it seems likely that the Moon government will encounter significant difficulties in improving inter-Korean relations.
*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.