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Inter-Korean cultural exchanges likely to gain steam after historic summit

2018/04/27 19:40

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SEOUL, April 27 (Yonhap) -- In the wake of Friday's landmark agreement between the leaders of the two Koreas, cross-border cultural exchanges are expected to pick up speed.

"Since the two sides agreed to set up a joint permanent liaison office to ensure smooth civilian exchanges and cooperation, we expect civilian cultural, arts and sports exchanges will likely be reactivated, as it will be easier to facilitate them," said an official at the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The agreement was part of a joint declaration issued after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the summit on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom.

The ministry has already launched a task force of ministry officials with the aim of discussing ways to resume major inter-Korean cultural exchange projects after they were suspended more than a decade ago.

Among them are the publication of a unified Korean dictionary; excavation of historic relics in Kaesong in the North; co-hosting of international symposiums for the unification of the different forms of the Korean language spoken in South and North; exhibition of their common documentary heritage items; and exchanges of media and religious groups.

"We see that exchange programs could make quick progress in the cultural field because, even though the summit ended in success, sanctions against North Korea have not been lifted immediately," a ministry official said. "In particular, we expect that projects that were suspended in the past can be resumed immediately if the North agrees."

   Of the six projects, the publication of a unified Korean dictionary and the excavation of historic relics in Kaesong were already proposed by culture minister Do Jong-whan when he led a group of South Korean pop musicians and a taekwondo demonstration team on a visit to Pyongyang early this month.

South and North Korea began work in 2005 to compile a unified Korean dictionary, named "Gyeoreomal-keunsajeon" (Grand Korean Dictionary), with about 30,000 entries to prevent further differences between the dialects spoken in the two Koreas. The two sides have since had 25 rounds of meetings of scholars, but the program was suspended in 2010 after the North's torpedo attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan. As more than half the work for the publication was done, it has been cited as the number one project that should be restarted when inter-Korean relations improve.

A bill on extending the publication's deadline by five years to 2024 is currently pending in South Korea's National Assembly.

Along with the program, South Korea is seeking ways to hold international symposiums of linguists from the two Koreas on a regular basis to help restore the homogeneity of their language. The symposiums began in Beijing in 2001 but since 2009 only Korean scholars from the South and abroad have been participating.

The inter-Korean project to excavate historic relics on the site of Manwoldae, a Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) palace, began in 2007, and the two sides have since conducted seven rounds of excavations. But the project came to a halt in early 2016 when their relations turned frosty with North Korea's repeated nuclear and long-range missile tests.

The Seoul government plans to put on display some of the relics excavated from the site during a special exhibition set to open in December at the National Museum of Korea in celebration of the 1,100th founding anniversary of the ancient Korean kingdom. No relics from the Manwoldae site have been on display in the South. Seoul pushed to exhibit them in PyeongChang during the 2018 Winter Olympics, but was unable to obtain consent from the North.

The Koreas will also push for a program to pick and jointly display representative documentary heritage items and hold symposiums on the subject. In 2014, cultural organizations of the two Koreas reached a verbal agreement to hold a joint exhibition, but the program later came to a halt amid political tensions.

Exchanges between journalists and religious groups are also expected to restart quickly after a suspension of nearly a decade.

In the religious field, South Korea's largest Buddhist sect, the Jogye Order, and the North's Korean Buddhists Federation jointly reconstructed the Singye Temple in the North's Mount Kumgang from 2004 to 2007, more than half a century after it was destroyed by U.S. bombing during the 1950-53 Korean War. The Buddhist groups continued their exchanges until 2015.