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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on May 15)

2018/05/15 07:01

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Internal unity

Both government, opposition to blame for disputes over NK

The latest developments indicate that the upcoming historic meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be -- as Trump predicted -- a great success. That means South Korea, too, has to brace for a great change in the security situation in the region, for which internal unity is essential.

Taking the first concrete step in following up on its denuclearization promise, the North said it would dismantle its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri next week and open the process to journalists from South Korea, China, Russia, the United States and Britain. The Foreign Ministry said the North is taking technical measures for dismantling the test ground in order to "ensure transparency of discontinuance of the nuclear test."

   The announcement came just two days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Pyongyang to take home three American citizens who had been detained in North Korea.

Pompeo's second visit to Pyongyang in about 40 days and the release of the three -- all Korean-Americans -- helped dispel lingering skepticism about the Trump-Kim meeting to be held in Singapore on June 12.

The skepticism was heightened when Kim visited China's northeastern city of Dalian to meet President Xi Jinping, the second such meeting in about a month. Kim reiterated his position on a "step-by-step" denuclearization and simultaneous reciprocal actions on each step.

That led to speculation Kim was seeking China's help in strengthening his negotiation position ahead of the North-US summit.

But what emerged from the second Kim-Pompeo meeting a few days later contradicted the speculation. Trump said the secretary had a "good meeting" with Kim in Pyongyang and the date and location of their summit were set. He also described the North Korean announcement on the Punggye-ri dismantlement as a "smart and gracious" gesture.

North Korea's official media have said that Kim and Pompeo reached a "satisfactory consensus." All these signs point to the possibility that the two sides are close to a package deal to be sealed by Trump and Kim in Singapore.

The core part of the deal, of course, should be on the method and road map for denuclearizing the North. That could be tied with a US guarantee of the North's security, for which the official ending of the Korean War and the replacement of the armistice agreement with a peace regime are necessary.

That could pave the way for normalization of relations between the US and the North. There is already talk of the two sides having agreed to exchange liaison offices or trade representatives ahead of the establishment of full diplomatic ties.

These moves call on South Korea to brace for tremendous changes, for which internal unity is indispensable. Unfortunately, forging political unity and public consensus seems as elusive as ever.

Both the government of President Moon Jae-in and the opposition are to blame for the failure to rally the nation behind efforts to remove nuclear threat from the North and achieve lasting peace and stability on the peninsula.

One problem is that the Moon government is impatient with appeasing the North at a time when there are still many South Koreans who are wary of what they see as peace gestures from the Kim regime. One such case in point is the government's indication of repatriating some of the 13 North Koreans, who defected to the South after working at a restaurant in China about two years ago.

Some ultraconservatives' blind opposition to whatever the Moon government does regarding North Korea also stands in the way of national unity. One prime example is the rightist activists who flew balloons northward containing anti-North leaflets over the weekend. It certainly goes against a declaration signed by Moon and Kim, which called for the two sides to cease hostile activities, including propaganda broadcasts and leaflet flying.

As activists wrote on the banner tied to the balloons, what Kim has been making could be a "fake dialogue offer" and "disguised peace offensive." We never should let our guard down in dealing with the North, but it is wrong to oppose whatever Moon and Kim do. Prudence is required of both the government and conservatives.

(END)

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