Inter-Korean relations saw a dramatic turnaround on the brink of a crisis on Aug. 25. Both the political community and the media in South Korea are praising the government, which led the negotiations, and the public is in favor of the result as well. It is said that both Koreas escaped a war crisis, with the stage set for President Park Geun-hye’s Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula.
Under the circumstances, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced on Aug. 28 that he would comply with the Inter-Korean agreement concluded three days earlier. “The agreement is an important breakthrough that relaxed military tensions between the two Koreas for reconciliation and mutual trust and, we need to cherish the agreement so that it can bear meaningful fruit,” he remarked at a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party.
It is welcome news that the leader of the North officially promised to comply with an inter-Korean agreement for the first time. A meeting between the authorities, a reunion of separated families, and the Mt. Kumgang Tourism Project will be able to be resumed if he has a clear will to do so.
Still, his stance is somewhat doubtful. It seems that the North Korean leader saw better mutual relations as his only option, with the alliance between Seoul and Washington still rock solid and China putting pressure on him. In his speech, Kim Jong-un emphasized the importance of military power yet again by saying that the agreement was possible because of North Korea’s self-defensive nuclear deterrence, which implies that he would not give up on his nuclear weapons. The Rodong Sinmun reported on Aug. 28 that nothing will improve unless the United States continues to regard the North as a hostile country.
Few things can be predicted given the unpredictability of the North. Nevertheless, it is thought that the loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts toward the North is what Kim Jong-un is afraid of the most and it will deter him from provocative actions for the time being, because he is well aware that the broadcasts will resume at the moment when any unusual action is seen.
This is why some experts predict that the North will be rather passive in mending fences in the near future, as more exchanges between the two Koreas is a highly sensitive issue for North Korea, which puts the stability of the regime ahead of anything else.
That being said, the South Korean government is currently taking prudence regarding the improvement of bilateral relations, saying that it should confirm the sincerity of North Korea’s promise first, and the promise itself is somewhat short of a proper apology. Some in the South Korean government are claiming that the North has to apologize properly for the sinking of the Cheonan before the cancellation of the May 24 Measures likely to be discussed at next inter-Korean meeting.
In short, it remains to be seen whether North Korea’s mentioning of better inter-Korean relations is to halt the broadcast or is really to improve relations. On Aug. 29, North Korea accepted the South Korean Red Cross' offer to hold working-level talks on Sept. 7 to discuss the issues of reunions for families separated by the Korean War. Many will watch for the acceptance to be extended to a real family reunion.
According to the Gallup Korea poll that followed the inter-Korean agreement in Aug. 25, most of the general public of South Korea praised the result of the talks, but only 17 percent of them answered that the North would stick to the agreements. Seoul needs to review its North Korea strategy thoroughly so that Kim Jong-un cannot stall for time or money with nuclear missiles on hand. It is not the strategy for unification under communism, but tactics against the South that he changed this time. What President Park Geun-hye should have in mind is prudent steps.