Interview and photo by Junichi Toyoura, Seoul bureau
[South Korea’s former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun made the following remarks during an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.]
North Korea is busying preparing for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea on Oct. 10. Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un, who has set a goal of “improving people’s livelihoods,” must make economic achievements. But the prolonged economic sanctions imposed on the country and the new coronavirus outbreak are making achieving the goal seem hopeless.
North Korea began to apply pressure on South Korea after a group of North Korean defectors distributed leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un in the North at the end of May. I believe the North was prompted to do so because it needed to divert internal dissatisfaction to outside the country.
The North may have also intended to urge the South to implement the “Pyongyang Joint Declaration” issued on September 2018, which includes the normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tourism project as well as the resumption of such South-North economic cooperation projects as connecting the South and North Korean railway systems.
South Korea has not resumed the inter-Korean economic cooperation on the grounds that the U.S. expressed disapproval of the cooperation at the working group meetings the two countries have held since November 2018 to adjust North Korean policies. We can say Pyongyang resorted to shocking methods, such as the explosion of an inter-Korean liaison office and the announcement of plans to take military action, to prevent Seoul from further using the working group meetings for an excuse.
Kim Jong Un “suspended” military action plans because he thought making an actual military provocation by using force while a U.S. surveillance plane is monitoring would draw U.S. military intervention.
Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs of South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visited the U.S. on June 17 to discuss how to deal with the issue with American officials. I believe Lee was warned by the U.S. that the “dissolution of the U.S.-ROK working group” that some in South Korea’s ruling party are insisting on would be unacceptable.
The resumption of South-North economic cooperation projects is a promise between President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un. The South Korean government needs to make more serious efforts to persuade the U.S.