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Exchanges are tricky

May 23,2017
The Ministry of Unification announced Monday that it will flexibly deliberate on plans to restore private exchanges between North and South Korea. The ministry said that it will grant permission for domestic civic groups, including the Korea Sharing Movement, to contact North Koreans sooner or later. Humanitarian aid to North Korea and private exchanges are important to settle peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and it is appropriate for them to continue regardless of political or military tension between the two Koreas. It is not desirable that North and South Korea sever such exchanges for any great length of time.

The ministry attached a condition. “The South Korean government will sternly respond to North Korea’s provocations, such as test-firing ballistic missiles… and private exchanges will be permitted within the scope of not hampering the international community’s efforts to impose sanctions on North Korea.”

Just one day before the Unification Ministry’s announcement, North Korea test-fired a Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile. North Korea’s state-run TV, Korea Central TV, reported early Monday morning that tactical deployment of Pukguksong-2 missile battery was approved.

At this juncture, the announcement of the Unification Ministry’s deliberations on restoring inter-Korean exchanges can unintentionally cause confusion to an international community trying to make a stand on North Korea’s provocations.

Resuming private exchanges is valuable, and can draw North Korea to the negotiation table. The Unification Ministry should find the most effective timing when announcing such an important policy change.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 23, Page 34