Monday, 14 July 2014

Why N. Korea’s olive branch shouldn’t be brushed away

South Korea must seize the opportunity to improve relations with Pyongyang and lay the groundwork for détente between the two sides based on mutual respect and cooperation.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the passing of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, North Korea issued a high-level statement last week calling for improved inter-Korean relations and an end to military hostilities with its southern neighbor. 

Pyongyang’s recent proposal has been relatively consistent with demands it has voiced on previous occasions, such as calling for the suspension of US-South Korea joint military drills, for both sides to settle all issues bilaterally, and an end to the exchange of slanderous language. It also called on Seoul to halt cooperation with other countries on the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons.

In a reference to the June 15 joint declaration signed by both sides at the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, Pyongyang reaffirmed calls for moving toward a federation with South Korea aimed at the eventual goal of reunification, in a way that benefits both sides and allows for differing ideological and social systems.

Since the beginning of this year, Pyongyang has attempted to call greater attention to its preference for improving relations with South Korea. The National Defense Commission (NDC), the North’s top military body, has made several proposals throughout the year, all of which the government in Seoul has dismissed.

The recent statement is significant in that it was issued directly by the North Korean government after Seoul rejected a special proposal by the NDC issued in late June, stating that the North “keeps making the same irrational claims.” South Korea has, however, accepted Pyongyang’s proposal to send a cheerleading squad to the upcoming Asian Games scheduled to be held in Incheon this September.

While there are certainly some areas of the proposal, such as international cooperation against Pyongyang’s nuclear program, that the South would find inherently problematic, but for the government in Seoul to entirely dismiss as “irrational” the current proposal by the North is a serious misstep.

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Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He can be reached at